In Review: Gaslight (1940) on Blu-ray

by Maryann O'Connor on 18/11/2013

Gaslight (1940)

The BFI have released Thorold Dickinson’s Gaslight (1940) as part of their season, Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film. Gaslight begins with a murder and the ransacking of an elderly lady’s house in Victorian Pimlico Square and we learn that the murderer was looking for the lady’s rubies, which neither he or anyone else found.

The house consequently went up for sale and the shifty Paul Mallen (Anton Walbrook) and his wife Bella (Diana Wynyard) move in, but not before the upper floors of the house are boarded off. Mallen is conducting a ceaseless campaign to convince his wife that she’s going off her rocker and it’s not entirely clear why until she herself says that he first got angry when she found an envelope with a strange name on it. She is confused about so many things, as her husband would wish, but most of all she is scared about the gaslight suddenly going dim in the middle of the night and footsteps echoing above her head.

Anton Walbrook is a sinister protagonist, methodically speaking down to and provoking his wife but at times his accent lends a little too much drama and a kitsch-like feeling to proceedings, reducing the horror factor quite substantially. The horribly over-egged accent of the cockerney maid also lends a little too much of the Carry-On to it all. Diana Wynyard is suitably wan and desperate, giving the very definite feeling of a woman tested to her limits. Despite the kitsch factor, this tale still manages to retain enough stylish darkness to unsettle and provoke the viewer.

The film was thought lost for a fair few years due to a blanket suppression attempt by MGM to promote their own version, which starred the enigmatic Ingrid Bergman, however Dickinson had secretly retained a copy which is now restored. Whatever the plus or negative points of the two versions of Gaslight, this original version deserves to be seen.

Extras: The extras, and indeed the accompanying booklet, are extremely illuminating about the career of Thorold Dickinson, containing some significant public information films about Spain along with a couple of highly amusing, if very propaganda heavy, films about helping out with the war effort and how to spot a German spy in the English countryside. The booklet also contains interesting background information about the development of Gaslight from play to film and the original author Patrick Hamilton’s issues with the cast, specifically Anton Walbrook.

Maryann has awarded Gaslight (1940) on Blu-ray three Torches of Truth

three torches

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