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Directed by Thorold Dickinson
Produced in 1940
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Anton Walbrook plays the menacing husband driving his wife to the brink of madness in Edwardian London. It's a must for all fans of classic British cinema, writes Rick Burin.
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.
Rick Burin on 7th October 2013
Author of 16 reviews
Based on Patrick Hamilton's celebrated stage play, Gaslight is one of the great British thrillers, and only improves with re-viewing. It tells a harrowing and claustrophobic tale of domestic fear. Anton Walbrook (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Red Shoes) stars as the terrifying husband who puts the sanity of his fragile and tortured wife (Diana Wynyard) under siege to cover up a dark secret from his past that she was close to uncovering - until a chance meeting with a retired police constable brings the situation to its climatic conclusion. Unmissable.
The success of Gaslight on stage and film encouraged Hollywood studio MGM to buy the remake rights in the early 1940s, with a clause insisting that all existing prints of Dickinson's British version be destroyed!
Length: 85 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Format: DVD+Blu-ray B&W
Released: 18th November 2013
Cat No: BFIB1168
- Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
- Spanish A B C (Thorold Dickinson and Sidney Cole, 1938, 20 mins): a short film on the Republican efforts to improve education standards during the Spanish Civil War
- Behind the Spanish Lines (Sidney Cole and Thorold Dickinson, 1938, 20 mins): a companion piece to Spanish A B C
- Westward Ho! (Thorold Dickinson, 1940, 9 mins): a short film to promote the evacuation of urban children to rural areas
- Miss Grant Goes to the Door (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1940, 7 mins): a short film about a German invasion from a story by Thorold Dickinson
- Yesterday is Over Your Shoulder (Thorold Dickinson, 1940, 9 mins): a short film encouraging unskilled workers to join free, government organised, engineering training schemes
- Original promotional materials and documents from the BFI National Archive Special Collections (downloadable PDF, DVD only)
- Illustrated booklet featuring full credits and essays from Henry K Miller, Iain Sinclair, Philip Horne, Peter Swaab and Michael Brooke.
by Barry Forshaw on 19th November 2013
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... Read on
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. Hide