Gaslight Movie Review
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.
Once you get over the realization that Paula is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Gaslight turns into a moderately entertaining variation on the old gothic thriller. Instead of ghosts and fog, however, in the manner of Rebecca, this film takes things from a more psychological perspective and ultimately is more interesting as a portrait of a marriage gone awry. Although the viewer is quite aware of the sinister underpinnings behind Gregory's machinations, the manner in which he goes about tearing Paula down and slowly turning her into a neurotic mess has the sting of reality to it; the script is like a case-study for passive aggressive relationships.
As a thriller, Gaslight works less well, as it spends too much time meandering about the outside of the story and never establishing a thoroughly claustrophobic atmosphere; one wonders what Hitchcock could have done with this material, how much tighter he would have wound the screws down. Cukor provides a glossy, professional look, and also provides good comic relief in the form of a dotty, nosy neighbor (played by Dame May Whitty). A sharp-faced, eighteen-year-old Angela Lansbury makes her (Oscar-nominated) acting debut here, giving the sometimes lagging proceedings a good salting as the tarty Cockney servant who is more than eager to lend Gregory a helping hand.
The Warner Bros. DVD is unfortunately widescreen only, and although the picture-transfer is relatively clean, it has a tendency to flicker. There are a few enjoyable extras, including a making-of documentary, and, most notably, the entire 1940 British film version of the play, starring Diana Wynyard, of which MGM reportedly tried to destroy all prints when the Cukor film was released.
Hand over the lighter.