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On May 4, 1944, MGM premiered Gaslight in New York at the Capitol Theatre. The thriller went on to claim two Oscars at the 17th Academy Awards, including a best actress nod for Ingrid Bergman. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
When top-flight stars of the caliber of Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten join forces in performing a psychological thriller, the public is assured of an extraordinary attraction.
Producer Arthur Hornblow Jr., aware that he was dealing with a skillfully wrought bit of theater in this play that had been known on the stage both as Gaslight and Angel Street, wisely allows the good, old Victorian melodrama to build suspense through the power of its exceptional characterizations.
There is the properly terrifying atmosphere of the Drury Lane era in this piece, the emotional content of which relentlessly grips and holds absorbed interest. Hornblow is to be congratulated for his sagacity in avoiding the usual Hollywood “production touches.” He has a melodramatic tale to tell, and he gives it to audiences straight-from-the-shoulder. In the complete honesty of the melodrama rests its strong bid for outstanding box office.
True, a prologue has been added to the original play. This introduces the heroine as a girl in her ‘teens, deeply touched by the tragedy of her aunt’s mysterious murder. She leaves the old house on Thornton Square, London, to study singing on the Continent. But she gives up her music when she falls in love and marries the man who is her accompaniment, then with her husband returns to Thornton Square. The period is the early 1880s.
Miss Bergman is indescribably lovely as the young wife, but even more remarkable is her appearance as the teen-age child, quite the youngest girl you have ever seen an established actress portray seriously. Without her unforced ability to capture the very spirit of youth, the prologue would have been impossible.
Following their return to London, a subtle change begins in her husband’s attitude. He plants the thought in her mind that she does not always remember what she has done, that she loses things which have been given to her, that her sanity may be impaired. The husband seems intent upon driving his wife insane by psychological suggestion and, with diabolical cunning, lead her to doing away with herself. She is saved only by the timely intervention of the police who have never been satisfied with the mystery surrounding her aunt’s demise.
Boyer’s performance of the husband is really brilliant. It is a far cry from his average romantic roles, actually his first unmitigated screen villainy. And he increases his acting stature by playing the part, much as did Robert Montgomery by appearing in Night Must Fall.
Direction by George Cukor is ever a display of fine craftsmanship. He utilizes small mosaics of sharp characterization in building to his climax and works in each facet faultlessly. This is the job for which Cukor admirers have been waiting.
Cotten has a relatively incidental role as a Scotland Yard man, but he does it with dashing presence. A fascinating Cockney maid is portrayed by Angela Lansbury in a debut of great promise. Her talents are marked to be able to stand out in such company. Dame May Whitty provides a priceless note of humor as the busybody neighbor, and Barbara Everest scores a solid, if unspectacular success as the cook. The others, headed by Emil Rameau as the musical teacher, do yeoman service in brief assignments. Jakob Gimpel performed the piano solos.
Meritorious photography is the contribution of Joseph Ruttenberg, who is in the habit of making his work count. Bronislau Kaper did the compelling music score, and Cedric Gibbons and William Ferrari the stunning art direction. Also worth of note are the set decorations by Edwin B. Willis and Paul Huldschinsky, the costumes by Irene and Marion Herwood and the film editing by Ralph E. Winters. — staff review, originally published on May 8, 1944
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