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Gaslight (1944)

Gaslight (1944), directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and a teenage Angela Lansbury, is the second film version of Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play Gas Light. This American version followed the British film Gaslight, which was directed by Thorold Dickinson and out in 1940.

I first watched Cukor's Gaslight as a university student in a film class about 25 years ago, and I remembered parts clearly but wanted to fill in what I'd forgotten. I really enjoyed the film as a student, and again the other day. The term "gaslighting" (defined as: To psychologically manipulate (someone) so that they question their memories, perception, or sanity) comes from the play and film adaptations. In this case the manipulator is a greedy, sociopathic husband who is slowly driving his wife mad with the ultimate aim of taking her fortune and aunt's missing jewels.

Apparently, this was one of many 40s thrillers in which a woman is manipulated and abused by a man, often the husband, and the house serves as a prison. In Gaslight the house is jam-packed with furniture and paintings and ornaments, adding to Paula's (played by Bergman) claustrophobia and growing terror as her mind too becomes cluttered, but with despair and twisting thoughts. Gregory Anton (Boyer), the husband, has to be among the most evil villains of 1940s film. And Bergman was perfect for the role because she has a strength that always seems about to burst out of the naive character she plays, no matter how many times Gregory maltreats and bullies her. The film is still excellent after 75 years and, in a world of "fake news" and accusations of falsity and deception, is in some respects relevant to the times.


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