Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gaslight. A-

I suppose the the 1944 George Cukor American remake of Gaslight (the original, a British film, had come out just four years before) is a little like Spike Lee adapting Oldboy for American viewers. I merely mention that because though American remakes are more prevalent now than they were in the classic studio era, those who consider American remakes of perfectly solid foreign films as unnecessary should still be reminded that this has always been done in the the history of American cinema and that in the case of Gaslight, most prefer the remake. And not only that, but the 1944 version has such a remarkable series of names attached to it that for a lot of people it's the only version of the film. I already mentioned Cukor, who made quite a seamless leap from his comfort zone (the romantic comedy) to a such dark, often disturbing thriller. But there's also a great cast in Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotton. It's an ideal assemblage of actors because each of them fit into their roles very naturally. None seem out of place. Though Boyer's (who plays the film's villain) previous work, like Cukor, had been more romantic, his face and accent are every bit as menacing as they are charismatic. This was Bergman's first truly dark performances, but she of course went on work with Hitchcock three times, indicating a natural compatibility with intense roles. Then Cotton, who had already worked with Hitchcock on Shadow of a Doubt, is perfectly suited for noir. What's striking about this one is just how psychological it is. What drives the film is that Bergman, who unknowingly marries the killer of her aunt, is driven to think she's insane by his cruel manipulation of her (his hope is to gain her fortune). His tricks are largely legitimate, though at times we wonder why Bergman could allow herself to be thrown around by such an unpleasant husband. But the bottom line is that we are supposed to feel the cruelty at play because we know all along that the husband is the villain. That's why this is often compared to a Hitchcock movie. Cotton plays a Scotland Yard officer who grows suspicious of the happenings in this artificial marriage. He's as good a hero here as he was a villain in Shadow of a Doubt. 

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