RogerBW's Blog

Gaslight (1940) 04 April 2024

1940 psychological thriller, dir. Thorold Dickinson, Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard: IMDb / allmovie. Is she going mad?

It's all a bit contrived, of course. If the villain just wanted access to the house to look for the MacGuffin, couldn't he just move in as a bachelor rather than going through all the rigmarole of a false marriage?

What I did find very noticeable is that Paul is never shown as being at all kind; the first time we see him he's berating Bella for her forgetfulness. I mean, yes, all right, some Victorian marriages did have the man as sole decision maker and the woman kept in a child-like state, but this is an adaptation of a play written in 1938 for a modern audience, and even the Victorians liked to imagine love between husband and wife as a possibility.

Even if Walbrook plays things a bit simplistic, though, I like the way Diana Wynyard tackles the part. I was particularly impressed by her final confrontation with Paul, where he clearly believes that she is going to stab him to death and claim to have been mad when she did it, and it seemed plausible to me too. Walbrook and Wynyard had just played Otto and Gilda for 233 performances in the first London production of Design for Living (with some guy called Rex Harrison as Leo), and they're clearly very used to playing off each other.

It is very obviously an adaptation of a play, though; there's an economy of sets and even of viewpoint changes. One rather neat touch for me was the planting of a tree outside the house at the time of the original (and quite graphic) 'orrible murder, which then grows up in accelerated time to show the audience that a few years have passed.

This may not be the equal of the more famous adaptation (which will be the subject of my next film review) but it has some lovely high poinnts—such as Frank Pettingell as the retired policeman who finds himself taking an interest—and I'm very glad it's still possible to watch it.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

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