July 3rd, 2007

"Gaslight", Times Cinema, June 24th.

The Times Cinema is the one remaining movie house in Milwaukee that regularly runs classic movies, and on Sunday afternoon the 24th we took the opportunity to see "Gaslight," starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. This was the first time I had actually been able to see the 1944 film, and was fascinated by it. Bergman plays Paula Alquist, the niece of a famous opera singer whose murder was a famous unsolved mystery. Boyer plays Gregory Anton, a pianist who sweeps Paula off her feet, and then, after their whirlwind marriage, manipulates her into returning to the London house still haunted by her aunt's death. If you know the plot, I won't need to recount it. If you don't. I wont give more away.

It is a remarkable production in many ways: the London house is narrow, dark, and cluttered, engendering a sense of claustrophobia. Boyer manages to loom over Bergman in presence, done partly through force of personality and partly through camera tricks, since movie lore insists he was shorter than the statuesque Bergman. Bergman actually visited a mental asylum in order to perpare for her role of a woman slowly going mad, and it shows in her performance which is carefully nuanced. The script is excellent, with great psychological power. Anton's subtle but abusive tactics toward his vulnerable wife are easily recognizable for what they are, today, but in 1944 must have been revelatory to a lot of people.

Fine supporting performances by a young Joseph Cotten as the detective, Dame May Whitty as the comic nosy neighbor, and a first role for Angela Lansbury as the cheeky housemaid. Bergman's wardrobe, which might be called "Hollywood Victorian" is almost a charcter in itself, with her walking dresses, satin evening gown, and black velvet lounging ensemble being particularly beautiful.
This movie won Bergman a Best Actress Oscar, and won a well-deserved Oscar for Art Direction, as well as Oscar nominations for Boyer and Lansbury, and for Best Picture, Cinematography, and Screenplay. These awards and nominations were well deserved. Very strongly recommended.