“Gaslight” won two Academy Awards for Best Lead Actress Ingrid Bergman and Art Direction.
When MGM decided to buy the film rights to remake Patrick Hamilton's play from Columbia, they also assigned a team of writers to expand the story, adding an unofficial prologue that covers the romance, marriage, and return to London of the leading characters. Put another way, you don't cast a rising star like Ingrid Bergman in a 90-minute film, in spite of her presence in virtually every scene. The crusading detective's age was also dropped in line with Joseph Cotton's more youthful persona, adding a minor subtext of romantic possibilities.
Dialogue from the 1940 British film was heavily changed, but the film's tone is certainly in tune with the other film, adding a greater measure of verbal irony, but maintaining a mood of mounting gloom and emotional scarring, as Bergman's character increasingly believes her mind is going kaput.
Warner Bros' transfer is made from a fairly clean print, with a good balance of subtle grey levels during the moody, evening scenes, heavily diffused to mimic London's fog. There's some minor density fluctuations in the grain at the edges during early scenes, but overall the film looks very lovely. Less Hitchcockian than the British version, director George Cukor chose a more restrained use of visuals, opting for effective shadows and creepy angles; though Bergman receives a mere two close-ups in the first hour, when they happen, they pack a wallop.
As excerpted in Rudy Behlmer's “Memo From: David O. Selznick” collection, the legendary producer was very protective of his contract stars, and his editorial advice and suggestions to re-shoot the film's confrontation scene between the two leading stars arguably helped Bergman win her first Oscar statuette. A newsreel, archived on Side B, has the youthful actress receiving her golden trophy, between a similarly lucky Bing Crosby, and Margaret O'Brien.
A pivotal film in Bergman's career, “Gaslight” also gave a 17 year-old Angela Lansbury her first film role as the snotty, impudent housemaid. Sixty years later, Lansbury discusses her debut in “Reflections On Gaslight,” with Bergman, George Cukor, and Charles Boyer as her mentors. Pia Lindstrom, Bergman's daughter, also provides some brief career anecdotes for the actresses' fans.
The flip side of this disc contains the British 1940 original version of “Gaslight,” see our separate entry for details and review.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan