Gaslight View large image

Film Details

Directed by: Thorold Dickinson

Produced: 1940

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

Blu-ray Details

Certificate: PG

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 85 mins

Format: Blu-ray

Region: Region B

Released: 18 November 2013

Cat No: BFIB1168

Extras:
Languages(s): English
Hard of Hearing Subtitles: English
Interactive Menu
Scene Access
Screen ratio 1:1.33
Mono

Moviemail Details

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Gaslight

Cast: Robert Newton , Diana Wynyard , Anton Walbrook , Frank Pettingell , Jimmy Hanley , Cathleen Cordell

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Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard star in this classic British thriller based on Patrick Hamilton’s play. After Alice Barlow (Marie... Read More

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Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard star in this classic British thriller based on Patrick Hamilton’s play. After Alice Barlow (Marie Wright) is murdered in her own home by a thief seeking her priceless jewels the house lays empty for 20 years until the arrival of newly-weds Paul and Bella Mallen (Walbrook and Wynyard). Although he tries to divert his wife’s attention away from his suspicious behaviour by convincing her she’s going mad, Paul uses gaslights to search the house’s closed upper floors for Alice’s hidden jewels during the night. As B.G. Rough (Frank Pettingell), a detective from the original, unsolved murder case, becomes increasingly suspicious of Paul, he suspects him of hiding a sinister past identity...
There can surely be no higher compliment than the world's most famous movie studio trying to destroy the negative of your film because it's a bit too good. That's the fate that befell Thorold Dickinson's Gaslight in 1944, as it dawned on MGM that their remake of the British film - released four years earlier - didn't really measure up.

 

Dickinson's original is a scintillating, richly atmospheric and sickeningly tense suspenser set in Edwardian London, in which sadistic maniac Anton Walbrook returns to the house where his aunt was once strangled, and methodically and insidiously drives his blameless wife (Diana Wynyard) to the brink of madness.

 

The director fairly revels in Walbrook's dapper deviance, and proves himself every bit as meticulous as his villain, stuffing his gas-lit movie with vivid montages, ingenious juxtapositions and nerve-shredding set pieces. The sequence in which Walbrook stage-manages his wife's breakdown at a charity concert is one of the most harrowing in movie history, Dickinson masterfully dragging his heels as we move towards the inevitable, and Wynyard sits blissfully unaware, listening to the tinkling of ivories. Later, he cuts restlessly between a crucial conversation and a rambunctious music hall show, briefly stemming the undercurrent of mounting dread via a sea of can-can dancers, only to unleash it in a veritable torrent.

 

Although the vicious, grey-templed Walbrook steals the picture in familiar fashion, as he would in Dickinson's cult classic The Queen of Spades nine years later, Gaslight wouldn't work without the basic human goodness at its centre. It's a film that finds time to properly humanise its heroine, whose intense fragility is instantly recognisable and whose true character only truly emerges in the presence of some boisterous street urchins, and equips her with a pair of selfless allies: a rotund retired detective (Frank Pettingell) who smells a Walbrook-shaped rat, and her affable cousin Vincent, played by a young Robert Newton.

 

Stark, suspenseful and sexually frank, essentially good-hearted and yet dripping with the menace and malevolence of its errant villain, Gaslight remains a must for fans of classic British cinema. Just be sure to lock your copy in your desk, Walbrook-style, in case MGM come calling.

When the musical remake of Lost Horizon appeared in cinemas, prints of the original Frank Capra film were withdrawn, inevitably creating an appetite for the first (and better) movie; something similar happened with Gaslight. By turns charming and cruel, Anton Walbrook excels as the sadistic husband Paul Mallen who attempts to drive his wife Bella (Diana Wynyard) mad to prevent her disclosing his dark past. The success of Gaslight on stage and film encouraged Hollywood studio MGM to buy the remake rights, with a clause insisting that all existing prints of Dickinson's version be destroyed. Fortunately, Dickinson had made a ‘secret’ print, which was donated to the BFI and used for reference when the film was digitally remastered by the BFI National Archive. Special features include five short films, original promotional materials and documents from the BFI National Archive Special Collections (PDF) and an illustrated booklet.

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