Gaslight (1944)

“If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But 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!”

‘Gaslight’, directed by George Cukor in 1944, is an American adaptation of a play and a British movie from 1940. Ingrid Bergman plays Paula, the daughter of an opera singer who has been murdered in an attempted robbery. After this childhood tragedy, Paula moves to Italy where she is brought up and trained as a singer. When she becomes an adult she meets the smooth Gregory Anton, played by Charles Boyer, who woos and marries her. They return to her childhood home which she has now inherited, but when there events occur that begin to make Paula think she is losing her mind. Anton slowly manipulates his wife into madness to side-line her so he can gain access to the jewels and complete the robbery he attempted years before. It’s an effective thriller, full of evocative imagery and a suitably smoggy and chilly setting. Where this film really stands out is in the centralisation of the character of Paula and, as with ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ with drug addiction, with its brave depiction of psychological abuse in a relationship. The film (and its predecessors) gave rise to the expression ‘gas-lighting’, and unsurprisingly, given my background in American politics this made me think about the campaign and first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. The theme, applied to current events, make it clear how Trump is, through the denigration and manipulation of the media, gas-lighting the American public – a side-step from the movie, but this is where it took me.

Would I recommend it? It’s a tight and effective thriller with a powerful message and a great central performance. Watch ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’ for a similarly claustrophobic psychological narrative.


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