…Because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I’m mad, I’m rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!
So last year I reviewed the Alfred Hitchcock film Under Capricorn. In the post, I mentioned how it wasn’t widely received or enjoyed by critics and audiences, one of the reasons being its similarity to this Gaslight (1944), and because it starred two of the same actors; Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten. I personally like Under Capricorn better, but let’s take a look at this film.
So the movie is based on a play, and a remake of the film that came out four years prior to this one. It won an Oscar for best set design, best actress, and critical praise for all actors.
This is a historical fiction film, taking place at the turn of the 20th century. The name of the film comes from the gaslights used in houses; back then lights in London houses had gas flames, and when you lit one light, it reduced the gas supply to the other lights in the house causing them to dim.
Renowned opera singer, Alice Alquist, is strangled to death in her London home, No. 9 Thornton Square. The thief is searching for her famed emeralds, but is interrupted and flees. Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman), Alice’s niece, has been living with her aunt ever since her parents died. She finds the body and becomes completely traumatized.
Paula moves to Italy, where she studies music, following in the footsteps of her aunt.
Ten years later, Paula confesses to her voice teacher, Maestro Guardi, that she has finally been able to move past the traumatic event and has fallen in love.
Maestro doesn’t want to lose his most talented student, but he also wants Paula to be happy, and encourages her to follow her heart.
She does and accepts the proposal of the handsome Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), a pianist she has only known two weeks.
During their honeymoon, Gregory tells Paula he has always dreamed of living in a fashionable London square. Anxious to please her hubby, she suggests that they move into her aunt’s old house that she inherited.
When they move in Paula begins to have nightmares about what she saw before.
Gregory tells her that it will help if they remove everything that belonged to her aunt up into the attic, sealing it up. But then strange things start happening.
The gaslight flames keep going down, although no other lights nearby are being used. Why are they dimming!!
And what is making that strange noise in the sealed attic. Gregory doesn’t hear anything at all, doesn’t notice any lights, and Paula begins thinking she might be going crazy!
One day Paula discovers a note to her aunt dated two days before her murder, from a Sergius Bauer. He begged to see Paula’s aunt, very intensely. She shows it to Gregory who becomes upset over the whole thing and quickly silences Paula.
It is clear there is more to this man than his charming, suave, and handsome personality.
Meanwhile, Paula continues to hear things even though Gregory and the servants say that they hear nothing. Paula starts questioning herself, and becomes more insecure every day.
To make matters worse, Gregory has hired a saucy, young, maid Nancy. She is played by Angela Lansbury in her first film role. This maid is rude and cruel to Paula, making her feel worse and even crazier. Nancy is also making a ploy for Gregory.
Nancy Oliver: Gonna work on your tunes again tonight, sir? You’re always working, aren’t you?
Gregory Anton: Yes. What are you doing with your evening out?
Nancy Oliver: Oh, I’m going to a music hall… [starts to sing ‘Up in a balloon’]
Gregory Anton: I’ve never been to an English music hall.
Nancy Oliver: Oh, you don’t know what you’ve missed, sir…
Gregory Anton: And whom are you going to the music hall with?
Nancy Oliver: A gentleman friend, sir.
Gregory Anton: Oh, now you know, Nancy, don’t you, that gentlemen friends are sometimes inclined to take liberties with young ladies.
Nancy Oliver: Oh no, sir, not with me. I can take care of myself – when I want to.
Gregory Anton: You know, Nancy, it strikes me that you’re not at all the kind of girl that your mistress should have for a housemaid.
Nancy Oliver: [flirtatiously] No, sir? She’s not the only one in the house – is she?
Paula’s life is quickly becoming worse and worse.
Three months later, Paula and Gregory are going to go to a Tower of London tour. Gregory gives her a brooch that once belonged to his grandmother. He warns her to be careful, as the clasp is broken, and not to lose it. Paula puts it in her purse, but while they are at the tour she starts to worry that she lost it. When she checks the purse, it is gone!
While looking at the crown jewels exhibit, she is approached by a Brian Cameron. In the original play and film, this character was stout and elderly. However, that didn’t suit Hollywood, so instead they made him the young and very attractive Joseph Cotten.
Brian greets her very warmly as he recognizes her, being a huge fan of her aunt. Gregory doesn’t like Brian and questions Paula about him, but she insists that she has never met him before.
That night Paula confesses about losing the brooch, and Gregory yells at her “forgetfulness” that is running rampant. It seems that Paula is always forgetting things and hearing things that aren’t there.
That night Paula sees the gaslights dimming again, and also hears noises that sound like footprints.
Why is this happening to her? Why is she going losing her mind??!!
Two months later, Brian comes around Thornton Square. He is curious about Paula as he has never seen her at any parties or events, even though they run in the same social circles.
He goes to question Paula’s neighbor, when he notices Paula about to leave the house. Before she can go out, she is bullied by Nancy to stay in. It is clear who thinks they are the “real” mistress of the house.
It turns out that Brian is more than a music lover, he works for Scotland Yard.
He goes to the office and starts looking into the case file on Alice Alquist’s murder. Alice was given some amazing jewels from a secret admirer, all which are missing now. Did the thief manage to get them all? Or did Alice hide them very well?
Brian is convinced that Paula is in danger, and assigns a detective to watch over her house.
Meanwhile, Paula is convinced that the maid is trying to get rid of her. She tries to talk about this with Gregory, but he thinks she is just paranoid.
Brian poses as the neighbor’s nephew I order to explain him being around her neighborhood so often. He tries to see Paula, but Gregory refuses. Paula is shocked at his behavior, why is he being so rude?
Her mood quickly changes when Gregory tells her that he is taking her to the theater. However, before they leave Gregory accuses Paula of taking a painting down when Paula has no memory of doing any such thing.
Gregory finds the painting on the stairs, and tells her that this is the third time she has done it. She is getting worse.
Paula shares about the noises she has been hearing and Gregory tells her she is too unwell to go out. Now Paula is stuck at home and scared that she might get sent away to a mental institution.
Gregory decided to leave for his music studio, while Paula is home alone and again hears the strange noises.
Brian is invited to a piano concert at Lord and Lady Dalroy hoping to run into Paula as he knows they were also invited. But Gregory refused, as he believes Paula is too sick. Paula is furious and tells him she wants to go and will go without him. Gregory doesn’t “trust” her on her own and decides to accompany her.
When they get to the concert, Gregory tells Paula that his watch is missing. Paula ends up finding it in her purse, even though she knows she never put it in there, and this causes a huge scene with Gregory deciding to take her home.
When they reach the house, Paula says that all her problems began when she found that letter to her Aunt from Sergius Bauer. Gregory tells her he has no idea what she is talking about as no such letter exists.
Is she crazy? Or is there someone trying to make her think she is crazy?
Gregory yells at Paula, telling her she is going as crazy as her mother. He informs her that as she is going insane, he has already arranged for two doctors to examine and treat her.
Gregory leaves, and when he does Brian and another officer follow him, but lose him in the London fog.
Inside the townhouse, Paula hears the footsteps again and asks the cook if she hears anything. The cook says no, and this just reenforces to Paula that she is insane!
Back on the streets, Brian has been watching the house and figured out that when Gregory leaves, he doesn’t go to his music studio but into the deserted No. 5 townhouse and crosses the roof into the attic of No. 9.
The next night, Brian waits until Gregory has left the house, and then goes in to see Paula, trying to convince her she is sane.
Upstairs, Gregory is in the attic tearing everything apart as he is searching for something.
Downstairs, Brian forces Gregory’s desk opens and finds that Gregory’s gun is missing. Paula also finds the note that Gregory told her “didn’t exist.”
They compare the letter to Gregory’s writing, and Brian figures out that Gregory is Sergius Bauer, the man he suspected killed Paula’s aunt. Bauer/Gregory was searching for the jewels and couldn’t find them, having to leave that night, and resurfacing to marry Paula in order to gain access to the jewels.
Upstairs, Gregory has finally found the jewels in an opera costume. When the gaslights pick up, Brian knows it is time to get out of there. He takes off and then goes up through No. 5 to the attic.
Gregory comes downstairs and finds his desk broken. He yells at Paula, but is interrupted by Brian who has come through the attic with the destroyed costume.
Gregory Anton: I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to me.
Brian Cameron: I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to her.
Gregory rushes upstairs and the two fight. A gunshot rings out!
Paula runs upstairs to see what happened. There she finds Gregory tied up in a chair.
And we have what I think is the best scene in the movie.
Brian comes to take him away.
Gregory Anton: I don’t ask you to understand me. Between us all the time were those jewels, like a fire – a fire in my brain that separated us – those jewels which I wanted all my life. I don’t know why… Goodbye, Paula.
Brian consoles Paula, telling her he will always be around if she needs him.
This film isn’t bad and Ingrid Bergman worked hard on her character; actually going to a mental hospital and studying people suffering from different issues. However, I feel her delivery in Under Capricorn was much stronger than this one.
Otherwise, it is not a bad film and a pretty good thriller. And in case you were wondering, the psychological term ”gaslight/gaslighting” does come from this story.
To start Horrorfest IV from the beginning, go to You Cannot Conquer It. It Has Conquered You!: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
For the previous post, go to A Man Without a Face: The Bat (1959)
For more Ingrid Bergman, go to The Past of a Man: Under Capricorn (1949)
For more on Joseph Cotten, go to You Think You Know Something, Don’t You?: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
For more on Angela Lansbury, go to If Only It Was the Picture Who Was To Grow Old, and I Remain Young: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
For more on husbands that are more than what they seem, go to She Cries in the Night: The Screaming Skull (1958)
For more historical fiction films, go to That Place…There’s Queer Things Goes On There: Jamaica Inn (1939)
For more remakes, go to There are Thirteen Chairs at the Table…And That’s Unlucky: Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943)
For more films based on plays, go to I Do Think You Are Confused, Mrs. Bowman: Dangerous Crossing (1953)