John Van Druten

John Van Druten

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Gaslight Review


OK
It would be mean to say that Ingrid Bergman played confused all too well, but it would nevertheless be true. Director George Cukor (My Fair Lady) likely didn't have to look too far when he was casting about for his female lead in this 1944 adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's old warhorse of a play, as he needed somebody with an imperious grace and a trusting demeanor that could easily be read as a lack of intelligence. Bergman fits the bill perfectly, playing Paula Alquist, a traumatized young British woman whose family sent her away from her London home after her aunt (an internationally famous singer whom she was living with) was found murdered. Years later, after a long stay convalescing in Italy, where she takes singing lessons in a desultory fashion, trying to emulate her dead aunt, Paula falls in love with the piano player, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), whom she marries after a whirlwind romance.

The seed of an idea that something is not quite right gets planted during their honeymoon, when Gregory convinces Paula - even though she's obviously still traumatized by her aunt's horrible murder - that they should move into the old London house together; he's just a little too insistent about it, in a way that would set any sane person's alarm off. But Paula goes blithely along, and they return to the house. It isn't long before Gregory is chipping away at Paula's self-confidence, convincing her that she's forgetful ("But, dear, I already told you, don't you remember?") and insinuating in a not-too-subtle manner that she's going crazy. At the same time, he's always finding excuses for them not to leave the house, Paula keeps hearing noises and wonders why the gaslight keeps inexplicably getting turned down low. All you need are hints of the dead aunt's jewelry and the longing way that Gregory stares at the Crown Jewels in a rare trip out of the house to the Tower of London, to figure out that there's a financial reward at the end of his chicanery.

Continue reading: Gaslight Review

I Remember Mama Review


Excellent
A sentimental but well-intentioned portrait of an immigrant family, I Remember Mama is an oddity for Hollywood -- very slow, almost entirely lacking in dramatic punch, but surprisingly realistic. Martha Hanson (Irene Dunne) is the center of a Norwegian-American family in early 20th century San Francisco. (The row houses are still standing, but no one who lives in them has to count pennies.) The story is narrated by a daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes) who worshipfully portrays her mother through her own somewhat selfish lens, but allows us to see her mother as she is: uneducated, strong, simple, forthright, and content. Like so many immigrants, Mama unsentimentally embraces her new country and raises her children as acculturated Americans, without changing herself.

The role was a stretch for Irene Dunne, usually a comedienne who teamed with Cary Grant, among others, in screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s (The Awful Truth, etc.). Unfortunately, the film signaled her retirement rather than a new beginning.

Continue reading: I Remember Mama Review

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Gaslight Movie Review

Gaslight Movie Review

It would be mean to say that Ingrid Bergman played confused all too well, but...

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