Directed by: Thorold Dickinson
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 85 mins
Region: Region B
Released: 18 November 2013
Cat No: BFIB1168
Hard of Hearing Subtitles: English
Screen ratio 1:1.33
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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
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.