"Gaslight" is a work that exemplifies the female lead, it demands attention, and it by far one of the most frustrating and disgusting movies to come out of the 1940s. The concept is so revolting and impermissible that I shudder at what a modern director could do with the movie...and I also would be interested in seeing that.
The movie opens a few days after the murder of a famous singer. People crowd around an apartment as a young girl named Paula (Ingrid Bergman) is ushered away from her aunt's house, the lady who was strangled. She is going to be raised with class, trained as a singer as her aunt was.
In a flash we go forward a few years as Paula is beginning to lose interest in her singing lessons. Her instructor suspects that she has fallen in love and she doesn't deny it. It's hard to sing classical songs of tragedy when you're floating on a cloud of love.
Her teacher dismisses her and she decides to run away with her beau, a gentleman named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). They get married and near the beginning of their honeymoon, Gregory confesses that he would love to live in London with an apartment of his own. Trying to do everything a good wife should do, Paula offers her apartment up. You see, the place where her aunt died was left to her and she still owns it, though she doubted that she could revisit the place because of the emotional effect it would have on her.
But out of love, she returns to the place with her new husband and for a while everything seems to be going okay. Certain odd instances pop up, but that was expected. For the first part of their return, Paula seems ecstatic at rediscovering the memories of her aunt that she had repressed or forgotten.
But soon things start to turn ugly. Charles becomes very smothering of Paula and won't let her travel out. He hires a maid (Angela Lansbury) and demands that she have as little communication with her mistress as possible.
Paula is isolated and her attempts to get out to society are always met with a curious glance or a gentle hand, steering her away from the front door.
On one outing, she runs into a man who seems to recognize her. His name is Brian (Joseph Cotten) and he becomes sure that he's seen her before, so he begins an investigation into her life.
Paula's life starts to fall apart at the edges and slowly makes it way inward. She starts misplacing items and forgetting things, then she starts moving objects around and fabricating entire conversations. It's enough to make anyone little crazy.
Hollywood's love for crazy people is exemplified here; but it isn't glorified. Paula is not a character whose experiences we would like to share, but she certainly is one that we can sympathize with.
Though much of the first quarter of the movie seems pointless, the movie's speed does pick up eventually. It was hard to get involved in characters who really haven't had anything happen to them. Paula isn't very clearly defined at the beginning of the movie and so it's hard to feel anything for her until she moves back into the apartment.
Charles Boyer cuts an imposing figure on the screen and I can't remember anyone so ruthlessly foreboding on the screen, including at the famous baddies from horror movies. His sheer appearance is enough to make us cringe.
"Gaslight's" main charm is its uncharmingness, so it's a hard movie to enjoy. As much as we like to see characters triumph over difficult circumstances, the movie's ending is almost a little too much; but I was fine with that.
Ingrid Bergman is totally captivating in the film, she would win her first Oscar for this movie, which is completely deserved. As mean as the film is to Bergman's character, it's nice to see a movie entirely devoted to a female lead from this time period...then again "Mildred Pierce" is a much finer example of that, but whatever.
Posted by Micah Jones