Overwrought to contemporary eyes, perhaps, but still troubling and, in its own way, powerful. Adapted from the Patrick Hamilton play, this 1944 screen version features Charles Boyer – baritone a-rumble and eyebrows a-wriggle – as Gregory Anton, new husband to Ingrid Bergman’s Paula Alquist. Paula has survived one trauma – as a child she discovered the body of her murdered aunt – and it soon becomes clear that Gregory has more trauma planned for her. Claiming she’s forgotten things he’s told her, making noises at night, haphazardly dimming the gaslights in their London home, Gregory is determined to drive her mad. (Why is a bit more of a mystery.) Despite the histrionics – Bergman is all wild eyes and big gasps, especially in a climactic confrontation with a knife – Gaslight has a decidedly creepy undertone, especially in the way it mirrors the insanity of real-world abusive relationships. It’s often asked why battered women don’t “just leave.” Gaslight evokes the sort of psychological intimidation and cruel mind games that make it so much more complicated than that. Directed by George Cukor, and with a very young Angela Lansbury as a heartless tart.
Fair warning: the mustaches are not ironic