Gaslight [1940]

George Cukor helped transform a moody Victorian stage melodrama (previously filmed in Britain in 1939) into a gothic Hollywood romantic thriller. Ingrid Bergman stars as a meek, uncertain heiress courted and married in a whirlwind romance by the debonair Charles Boyer, but when they move back into her childhood home she begins losing her grip on reality and becomes convinced that her husband is trying to drive her insane. Joseph Cotten, rather stiff and colorless next to the anguished Bergman and charming and lively Boyer, is the heroic Scotland Yard detective who becomes enamored of the skittish woman who is slowly succumbing to madness. The grand, glorious sets and elegant photography recall Hitchcock's Rebecca, another lush Hollywood gothic melodrama of a retiring young wife overwhelmed by the history of her abode, and Gaslight is still assumed by some to be a Hitchcock film (the Bergman connection doesn't help the confusion). It's really a rather straightforward thriller with a forced plot device, but under Cukor's control the tightly constructed script is given the full MGM treatment, then reined in for intimate moments of harrowing suspense. Boyer brilliantly played off his continental lover reputation by adding an undercurrent of malevolence and Bergman won an Oscar for her haunted performance. It also marks the memorable debut of Angela Lansbury as a saucy maid unwittingly drawn into Boyer's master plan. --Sean Axmaker

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