tue 31/03/2020

DVD: Gaslight | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Gaslight

DVD: Gaslight

A husband's sadism propels Thorold Dickinson's exquisite Victorian thriller of 1940

Married to malice: Anton Walbrook and Diane Wynyard in 'Gaslight'BFI

That Thorold Dickinson (1903-84) directed only nine features can be attributed to the British film industry's mistrust of the intellectual left-wing cineaste and union activist – and his own distaste for making pablum. That he didn't make 30 pictures, including his planned The Mayor of Casterbridge, was a major loss. He was not only a master manipulator of light, space, movement, sound, and actors, but a shrewd judge of psychological and sociological dynamics.

That Thorold Dickinson (1903-84) directed only nine features can be attributed to the British film industry's mistrust of the intellectual left-wing cineaste and union activist – and his own distaste for making pablum. That he didn't make 30 pictures, including his planned The Mayor of Casterbridge, was a major loss. He was not only a master manipulator of light, space, movement, sound, and actors, but a shrewd judge of psychological and sociological dynamics.

Gaslight (1940), adapted from Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play, is as European in flavor as Dickinson's sublime Pushkin adaptation The Queen of Spades (1949). A replacement director on both, Dickinson had 20 days to prepare for the first film; three for the second. Both star Anton Walbrook as a venal predator of vulnerable women. In Gaslight, he is the urbane psychopath, Paul Mallen, who has convinced his nervy patrician wife, Bella (Diane Wynyard), that she's insane. A jovial ex-copper (Frank Pettingell), who once investigated a murder at the townhouse Bella later bought for the couple, suspects foul play.

A suspenseful mystery-thriller set in rooms stuffed with hideous Victorian knick-knacks, the movie is implicitly critical of the idle rich during wartime. It also targets upper-class male contempt for women high-born and low: having driven Bella into evident frigidity, Paul toys with his household's parlour maid (Cathleen Cordell), who proposes he take her as his mistress. Slumming for fun, he even takes this hussy to the music hall, its wanton can-can routine contrasted with the posh, prissy piano recital where he engineers Bella's humiliating collapse. 

Having bought Gaslight's remake rights, MGM suppressed the film and tried to destroy all copies, but Dickinson and his editor Sidney Cole saved a secret print. George Cukor's 1944 version starred an ambiguous Charles Boyer and a passionate Ingrid Bergman, duly awarded an Oscar.

The BFI's dual-format disc includes two pro-Republican documentary shorts Dickinson and Cole made in Spain in 1938, two 1940 Ministry of Information shorts Dickinson directed, and one he devised. The subjects are evacuation, industrial re-training to help the war effort, and (anticipating Alberto Cavalcanti's Went the Day Well?) how to detect spies and defeat German invaders in a rural English village.

It targets upper-class male contempt for women high-born and low

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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