Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gaslight (1944)

Ingrid Bergman shines in this well-made, albeit predictable thriller.

Ingrid Bergman is Paula Alquist, the niece of the famous singer and actress Alice Alquist. When Alice is strangled one night, Paula goes to live with her aunt's closest friend to study singing, there she falls for Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), a pianist, and they wed. But it becomes apparent that her marriage is not what it seems as Gregory attempts to drive his wife insane.

Now, I know that may seem a bit like a spoiler, but to be honest, the film essentially tells you the eventual twist that Gregory is evil right off the bat, so I didn't really find myself thinking "Maybe Paula really is crazy, maybe it's all in her head".

But aside from that small flaw, the film is really good. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her performance, and it was well deserved. Paula is a genuinely sweet person, and its painful to watch her slowly lose her grip on reality as Gregory repeatedly tells her false stories about how she keeps losing things, or how she takes things and then hides them. Watching her doubt her sanity is heartbreaking since Bergman makes Paula's desperation palpable, and once the seed has been blossomed in her mind about her madness, she becomes a shell of her former self, her eyes glazed over and her movements slow and weary.

Charles Boyer also offers some fine work here (and was nominated for an Oscar for it). Whereas Paula begins doubting her self, Gregory becomes more and more assured, his wife's madness becoming a topic he returns to over and over. Also, we see small glimpses of his anger beneath his facade of a caring husband, moments where we see the true Gregory, a violent and rough man, far from the dignified gentleman he pretends to be. He plays the role with such conviction that had the film not spoiled itself, he really would have cast a doubt on Paula's sanity.

We also get Angela Lansbury's first film performance ever as Nancy, the rude housemaid. It's an interesting (and Oscar-nominated) performance, because Nancy seems so heartily disinterested in what's going on. She would much rather go out and flirt with the policeman on his beat, than listen to Paula talk about her sanity.

Overall, the film is really good. It's moderately suspenseful, and Ingrid Bergman really does deliver an absolutely fantastic performance full of desperation that begs to be seen.

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