I've got into the unfortunate habit of watching films at 9:30pm or later on nights where I actually have to wake up at 6am the next day. The films I have been seeing aren't exactly an easy watch either. They are usually atmospheric and have a dark twist to them. My Blind Spot pick for this month was no different.
I had been told about Gaslight by a friend of mine who loves old films, I loved the sound of the story and find a restored copy of it to watch. I kept it for months until it was time to pick my Blind Spot films.
Gaslight is based on the 1938 play by British playwright Patrick Hamilton, this film adaptation was released in 1940 which makes it the original. There is another version of Gaslight which was made in 1944 with Ingrid Bergman but THIS is the classic that had me blindsided.
The expression ‘being gaslighted’ actually comes from this story about a cruel husband who is purposefully making his wife slowly go mad in order to keep his suspicious past buried.
Set in Victorian London, the story begins with a vicious murder of an elderly woman. The murderer then proceeds to frantically search for something, pulling out drawers, ripping up furniture, making a mess. After the discovery of the body, the house is cleared and left vacant for years.
One day, a married couple. Paul and Bella Mallen, move into the house but the top two floors are boarded up apparently due to the lady of the house and her nerves. One day after Church, a former detective recognises Paul Mallen. He had worked on the murder case years before and starts to suspect foul play. He befriends Bella while walking through the park one day which angers Paul. He has been taking and hiding objects around the house, blaming Bella, accusing her of being mad. He has also cut her off from her family, keeping her letter and has even started lusting after the maid, who is only too happy to play along. Paul disappears every evening, under the pretence that he goes for a walk but in fact he has been entering the house next door which is connected to the upstairs of his house. Bella hears footsteps and the gaslight dims down, but by now she believes she is losing her mind. The former detective has conducted own enquiries and is convinced that Paul Mallen is in fact Louis Bauer who was suspected of killing his aunt for the family rubies. Together with Bella and her cousin who has come looking for her, they set a trap for Paul and get the evidence they need to convict him.
The story is far more dramatic but it is played out in a very British way which I love to see. Directed by Thorold Dickinson, who was Britain’s first university professor of film as well as a director, this restored gem was beautifully filmed. Although on an obvious set, the eeriness of the house, the looming dread and the flickering of the gaslight feels like it was mean to be watched late at night.
Bella Mallen is played by Diana Wynyard who is actually quite irritating most of the time, drifting in and out of an unsettling staring competition with the wall opposite her. But in doing so she manages to convey the slowly disturbed wife. Anton Walbrook as Paul Mallen/Louis Bauer takes great delight as the sadistic husband, obsessed with finding his treasure and mentally torturing his wife.
Gaslight has an ‘inbetween’ feeling, being set in the Victorian age and released on the cusp of the 40s. A delicate balance of great storytelling and some sensitive subjects, that cannot be fully explored or shown. A film like this is of its time, it couldn't be remade today, it wouldn't transcend and I wouldn't want it to.