George Cukor entered Hitchcock territory with Gaslight (1944), a shadowy tale of suspense and madness set in the gas-lit glow and cobblestone quaintness of Victorian London.
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, chivalrous if 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 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 presence of Bergman, star of Hitch’s Notorious and Spellbound, doesn’t help the confusion). Adapted from a Victorian stage melodrama (previously filmed in Britain in 1940), it’s a rather straightforward thriller with a tidy twist transformed into a Gothic Hollywood romantic thriller. Under Cukor’s control the tightly constructed script is given the full MGM treatment, then reigned in for intimate moments of harrowing suspense.
Boyer brilliantly played off his continental lover reputation by adding an undercurrent of malevolence and Bergman, quavering with fragile self-doubt, won her first Academy Award for her haunted performance. Almost as memorable is Angela Lansbury, who made her screen debut (at the tender age of 18) as a slutty housemaid seduced by the wily Boyer into, unwittingly, helping him in his campaign of torment.
Also stars Dame May Whitty
It also earned nominations for screenplay, actors Boyer and Lansbury, and for best picture, and was added to the National Film Registry in 2019.
Black and white
The original DVD and Warner Archive Blu-ray also include the original 1940 Gaslight, directed by Thorold Dickinson and starring Anton Walbrook as the scheming husband and Diana Wynward as the delicate wife, plus the 10-minute featurette “Reflections on Gaslight” featuring Angela Lansbury and Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindstrom and newsreel footage from the 1944 Academy Award ceremony. The Blu-ray also includes a 1946 radio adaptation with Bergman and Boyer reprising their screen roles.