Creepy claustrophobia in Gaslight

Angela Lansbury steals the show in her screen debut at age nineteen in creepy and claustrophobic mystery-thriller Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944), featured in TCM’s month of Summer Under the Stars.

Lansbury looks the same in her youth as she does in old age.  While we likely most associate Lansbury with her grandmotherly roles in Murder She Wrote and Beauty and the Beast, we sometimes forget that she was a film-noir, classic movie actress in her own right.  She possesses a great combination of being pretty enough to be a femme fatale, tough, and smart.  In Gaslight, she plays an impertinent and independent maid with her own agenda.

Gaslight features Ingrid Bergman as Paula, niece of renowned opera singer Alice Alquist, who was murdered in her own house years ago.   The mystery was never solved.   Years later, Paula decides to relinquish her struggling music career and marry Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), a charming man without much of a past.  Anton persuades Paula to move back to her aunt’s house in London, which serves as the setting for the remainder of the film.  It becomes clear that Anton’s intentions are sinister, and that he is intimately connected to Paula’s past.  Enter handsome Inspector Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) of Scotland Yard, who mistakes Paula for Alice herself, who he had admired as young boy.  Cameron resurrects the cold case in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Gaslight refers to the gaslights in the house, which go up and down without apparent rhyme or reason, slowly driving Paula to the brink of insanity.  The claustrophobia becomes tiresome, particularly because the viewer – such as in a teen slasher film – is pretty certain of the culprit – and it’s frustrating to see Bergman so clueless and weak.  Although, perhaps it served as good practice for her trapped looking facial gestures in Notorious, which followed a few years later.

Bergman’s acting prowess appears limited by both setting and script.  Cotten is charming in his role; however, we see almost no interaction between him and Bergman until the very end, where the film starts to get interesting—unfortunately, it ends there.  Gaslight was nominated for 7 Academy Awards in 1944, winning for both actress and art direction.

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One thought on “Creepy claustrophobia in Gaslight

  1. Ingrid Bergman looks fantastic in that second image. You are right about Angela Lansbury–her face hadn’t changed, save for wrinkles, from her youth to her wiser years.

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