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Warner Home Video presents
Gaslight (1944)

"If I could only get inside that brain of yours and understand what makes you do these crazy, twisted things."
- Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: February 01, 2004

Stars: Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten
Other Stars: Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury, Barbara Everest, Halliwell Hobbes
Director: George Cukor

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:53m:39s
Release Date: February 03, 2004
UPC: 012569514829
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's not every movie that has its title changed into a verb. But that's case with "gaslighting," which has become popular parlance for attempting to convince someone that she's gone mad. This suspenseful drama was adapted from Patrick Hamilton's hugely popular play, Angel Street, by playwrights John Van Druten (I Am a Camera) and John L. Balderston (who had written many of the classic Universal horrors).

Young Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) has gone to Italy to study singing after the murder of her operatic aunt. When she marries her accompanist, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), he expresses an interest in living in London. Since she has inherited her aunt's house in Thornton Square, they take up residence back in the house. But shortly afterward, Paula begins to show signs of becoming unglued: she forgets things, objects disappear, and she imagines sounds and the periodic mysterious dimming of the gaslights. Is she really going crazy, or is Gregory trying to make her so? Does he have his eyes on the saucy young maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury), or is he up to something more sinister?

Bergman won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Paula, and she does indeed do a lovely job of showing a woman beginning to doubt her own sanity. In the finale she really lets loose and the result is thrilling. Boyer uses his cinematic reputation well here, allowing him to give a sinister shade to what would ordinarily be a straightforward romantic portrayal. Especially notable in the cast is an impossibly young Angela Lansbury (a mere 17!) in her first film role. She gives Nancy a coarseness with a thin coating of pretension to gentility, barely covering a venomous jealousy and fiery lust. Joseph Cotten serves as the heroic figure who attempts to come to Paula's rescue.

George Cukor was renowned for his direction of women, and he seems to work well with Bergman here. She has a luminous glow through much of the film and the camera clearly sympathizes with her plight. But he also manages to inject a good deal of Hitchcockian suspense into the last half hour as things reach a climax and Gregory attempts to get Paula committed. The script is a good deal more mysterious than the British film version (discussed in the extras), which handles the same issues in fairly perfunctory manner. The use of an operatic background is interesting, not least because it allows the early introduction of the mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor to set up the themes.

The Victorian setting helps keep this film fresh. Although the fogbound streets are even more extreme than the Sherlock Holmes pictures of the same era, they certainly help emphasize the ominous mood. The title does so as well; while the gaslight is an important clue, it's also an enigmatic reminder of the insubstantial nature of perception. What we know can, given sufficient discouragement, prove as insubstantial as the flickering shadows cast by the gaslights. The result layers the picture with epistemological questions; that would seem an odd basis to support a thriller, but it does so in superb fashion here.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film looks incredibly good on DVD. There's hardly a speck of damage to be seen, and the film grain comes through nicely. Black levels are excellent as is the wide greyscale. Shadow detail is quite good as well, an important point in such a dark and shadowy film. The only significant defect is what appears to be a nasty telecine wobble in the closing credits.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: As to be expected in a 1944 film, there's moderate noise and hiss. On the whole, however, it's quite listenable. Dialogue is clear throughout. Bronislau Kaper's score is a bit on the shrill side and lacking in bass, which is no surprise in a 60-year-old mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. 1940 British version of Gaslight
Extras Review: Warner provides a rather extraordinary extra for comparison's sake: the British 1940 version of the film, starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyerd in the Boyer and Bergman roles. From this one can better assess the performances in the American version, with Walbrook playing the husband's role as more angry than dangerous. Wynyerd looks like a deer in the headlights much of the time, with little of the emotional range that Bergman uses. The compression done by the screenwriters is also notable: characters are combined to increase Paula's isolation in the American version. This makes for a very welcome extra.

A lengthy featurette (13m:48s) hosted by Bergman's daughter, Pia Lindstrom, discusses the making of the picture, complete with modern interviews with Lansbury about her experiences as a newcomer to the movies. A short newsreel on the 1944 Oscars features the very brief speeches of Bergman, Bing Crosby and Margaret O'Brien (with her miniature Oscar). The theatrical trailer takes an interesting tack, providing clips of the film out of context to constitute pseudo-spoilers: one seeing the trailer might think that he knows what is happening, but would instead by completely misled. This is a refreshing and creative change from modern trailers.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The classic thriller hits DVD with a lovely transfer and some highly interesting extras. Recommended.


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