After a whirlwind romance, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) marries pianist and composer Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). The two decide to settle in London on Thornton Square number 9, a home left to her by her aunt, Alice Alquist, who was murdered in the house. Paula had lived in the house as a child with her aunt who was a great opera singer. After her mysterious death, Paula was sent to Italy to study with Maestro Guardi who had been her aunt’s vocal teacher. Now having returned to the house, Paula is overcome with memories of her aunt and that terrible night. However, memories aren’t the only thing tormenting Paula. She is slowly being driven mad by bouts of forgetfulness and kleptomania. However, it appears that it is her new husband who is manipulating her into believing that she is going insane. Paula does find an ally and friend in Scotland Yard detective, Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten). As a child he had been a great admirer of Alice Alquist, and initially mistakes Paula for her aunt. Over a short period of time, Brian takes an interest in the unhappy and isolated Paula. He reignites interest in the unsolved murder of Alice Alquist and is determined to figure out what is plaguing her beautiful niece.
Though this is the most famous film version of the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gas Light an earlier film version was produced in 1940 in England. Having purchased the film rights, MGM attempted to halt and even destroy the negatives of this earlier film. However, this film could not compete with the highly publicized MGM version and its stars Bergman, Boyer, and Cotten. This version was adapted twice for radio starring Charles Boyer & Susan Hayward for The Screen Guild Theater on February 3, 1947 and then again starring Charles Boyer & Ingrid Bergman for the Lux Radio Theater on April 29, 1946.
At this point in her career, Ingrid Bergman was under personal contract to David O. Selznick. She begged for him to purchase the film rights to the play. However, he refused to purchase the play unless Bergman would agree to changes in her contract, changes to which Bergman refused. Selznick also refused to loan out Bergman for the role to MGM unless she received top-billing. It is said that she went crying and begging to Selznick to allow her to do the role, a battle which paid off, Bergman would receive her first Academy Award for best actress. Selznick would also loan Joseph Cotton to MGM for this production. The role of the detective was enhanced to entice a larger star, but was still considered a supporting role. Despite the smaller role, Cotten would receive above title billing along with Bergman and Boyer, probably due to Selznick’s insistence.
Gaslight marks the acting debut of Angela Lansbury. Lansbury would receive her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress playing the slutty housemaid, Nancy. After this, she would go on to supporting roles in National Velvet (1944) and A Picture of Dorian Gray (1945); the later brought her a second Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In 1962 she played a sinister mother in The Manchurian Candidate, which brought her a third nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Images from: Gaslight Dir. George Cukor. MGM, 1944. DVD.
Tagged: A Picture of Dorian Gray, Angela Lansbury, Charles Boyer, David O. Selznick, Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MGM, National Velvet, Patrick Hamilton, The Manchurian Candidate