Gaslight (1944 film)  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Gaslight is a 1944 mystery-thriller film adapted from Patrick Hamilton's play, Gas Light, performed as Angel Street on Broadway in 1941. It was the second version to be filmed; the first, released in the United Kingdom, had been made a mere four years earlier. This 1944 version of the story was directed by George Cukor and starred Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut. It had a larger scale and budget and lends a different feel to the material than the earlier film.


The film opens just after world-famous opera singer Alice Alquist has been murdered. The perpetrator bolted, without the jewels he sought, after being interrupted by a child—Paula (Ingrid Bergman), Alice's niece, who was raised by her aunt following her mother's death.

Paula is sent to Italy so that she can train to be an opera star with the same teacher who once trained Alice. She studies with him for years, all the while trying to forget that terrible night at Number 9 Thornton Square in London.

Paula meets Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) and soon falls in love with him. She eventually ends her long tutelage to marry him. He persuades her they should live in the long-vacant London townhouse her aunt bequeathed her and, to help calm her anxieties, suggests they store all of Alice's furnishings away in the attic. Before they do, Paula discovers a letter addressed to her aunt by a man named Sergius Bauer, dated only two days before the murder, tucked away in a music book. Gregory's reaction is swift and violent, but he quickly composes himself, explaining his outburst as one of frustration at the bad memories his bride is experiencing.

After Alice's things are packed away in the attic and the door blocked, things take a turn for the bizarre. At the Tower of London, Paula loses a brooch that Gregory had given her, despite its having been stored safely in her handbag. A picture disappears from the walls of the house, and Gregory says that Paula took it, but Paula has no recollection of having done so. Paula also hears footsteps coming from above her, in the sealed attic, and sees the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests that these are all figments of Paula's imagination.

Gregory does everything in his power to isolate his wife from other people. He allows her neither to go out nor to have visitors, implying he is doing so for her own good, because her nerves have been acting up, causing her to become a kleptomaniac and to imagine things that are not real. On the one occasion when he does take her out to a musical gathering at a friend's house, he shows Paula his watch chain, from which his watch has mysteriously disappeared. When he finds it in her handbag, she becomes hysterical, and Gregory takes her home. She sees why she should not go out in public.

The young maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury), does little to improve the situation. Whenever she shows up, her face betrays a feeling of disdain; Paula becomes convinced that Nancy loathes her.

Unknown to Paula, her husband is in fact Sergius Bauer, her aunt's murderer. He sought out Paula in Italy, managed to win her heart, married her, and suggested they live in London, all with the aim of getting back into the house to continue searching for Alice's jewels. He has been secretly rummaging through Alice's belongings in the attic to find the jewels he is certain are there.

Gregory, the husband, does everything in his power to convince his wife that she is going mad. After she is certified insane and institutionalized, he can search without impediment for the jewels. The footsteps she hears in the attic are thus his, and the flickering gaslights he claims she has imagined are in reality caused by him turning the attic lights on, reducing the flow of gas to the downstairs lights.

The plan almost works. Paula is saved by her trip to the Tower of London — although this visit was the catalyst that enabled Gregory to cement his control over her, it also led to a chance encounter with Inspector Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (Joseph Cotten), an admirer of Alice Alquist since his childhood. Cameron was also present at the aforementioned musical gathering, and thus witnessed Gregory's strange behavior from an independent perspective. By enlisting the support of the housekeeper Elizabeth (Barbara Everest) (who suspects her master is at the root of all the odd events) and a neighborhood busybody (Dame May Whitty), Cameron is able to delve into the long-cold case. Cameron eventually manages to get inside the house and see Paula, whose sanity is quickly restored when he confirms that the gaslights are indeed flickering. The dramatic conclusion comes as he moves in to arrest Gregory on the evening that Gregory at last discovers the jewels that he has sought for so long: hidden in plain sight, disguised as costume jewelry.

The dénouement partly involves Paula indulging herself in a bit of revenge, psychologically torturing Gregory after he's been bound to a chair, tantalizing him with the suggestion that she might free him so he can escape arrest, trial, and execution.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Gaslight (1944 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools