Oscar: Best Actress–Bergman, Ingrid in Gaslight

 Ingrid Bergman won the first of her three Oscars for the psychological thriller “Gaslight,” directed by George Cukor.

The movie is based on the 1938 English hit play. On Broadway, the play was called “Angel Street,” and also enjoyed a lengthy run of two years.

Cukor’s version was 30 minutes longer than the British one.  Marked by rich detail, it has a more substantial narrative and greater psychological depth. The superbly crafted script was co-written by John Van Drutten, who was strong in dialogue, and Walter Reisch, who excelled in plot construction. Cukor met the challenge of moving the narrative out of the confines of the stage, which made Gaslight his most disguised adaptation of a play.

Set in 1885, the story chronicles Gregory Anton’s (Charles Boyer) wooing and wedding of Paula (Ingrid Bergman), who has inherited the mansion of Anton’s murder victim, singer Alice Alquest. Upon return from idyllic honeymoon, Anton sets about to drive his wife insane so that he can conveniently put her in an institution. The title derives from the gas jet in the bedroom, which ominously dims whenever Anton turns on the lamp in the attic, to search for the valuable jewels.

In the best Hitchcockian tradition, Cukor tips off the audience early on as to Anton’s duplicity and sordid scheme. By giving this vital information away, before the heroine finds out, the suspense in Gaslight is prolonged. The tension builds steadily to a climax in which Paula finds out that her husband has never had any genuine feelings for her. Cukor also hints at Anton’s perverse fetishism, a notion ahead of its time.

A noir thriller, Gaslight belongs to a cycle of films that can be titled “Don’t Trust Your Husband/Lover,” which also included Rebecca (l940) and Suspicion (1941). One of Gaslight’s unanticipated effects, which amused Cukor, was the expression: “Don’t you gaslight me,” meaning “Don’t try to drive me crazy.”

Please read our review of Anastasia, for which Bergman won her second Best Actress Oscar.

Anastasia (1956): Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-Winning Comeback Performance

As Gaslight was an indoor film set mostly at night, Cukor used dark and claustrophobic sets. He successfully created a mood of paranoia, with the house becoming a trap of terror, menacing in all its clutter. Cukor requested that Huldchinsky, a German refugee, design the sets, and the latter’s imaginative sets are an example of the dazzling resources of the big studios.

Lansbury’s stunning debut in Gaslight certified her talent and honored her, at the age of l8, with the first of three Oscar nominations. A huge box office hit, Gaslight was nominated for eight Oscar Awards, including Best Picture, though Cukor failed again to receive a directorial nomination. At Oscar time, the movie won two Oscars: Best Actress for Bergman and art direction for Cedric Gibbons.

End Note

Terry Moore (credited as Jan Ford) plays the Ingrid Bergman’s character as a young girl.