I think I’ve already seen this movie!
Screenplay By: Bridget Boland & A.R. Rawlinson
Directed By: Thorold Dickinson
I already reviewed Gaslight once, but that was the 1944 Hollywood version of Gaslight. This, is the original 1940 British Gaslight. I liked the 1944 Gaslight, but felt in many ways that it was too Hollywood. Because of that I wanted to check out the original and see how the story fared in a non-Hollywood treatment. Before I get into actual details, this Gaslight didn’t suffer from feeling bloated, both in story and how the lead actress looked, like the 1944 Gaslight did so that right there might be a hint where I will be going with this review.
The set-up in Gaslight is interesting. Immediately it deviates from the psychological set-up of the remake, instead opting for more of slight jab at British high society that leads into the mystery of the movie. Gaslight gets right to its story, but it remains understated throughout. That was my favorite aspect of Gaslight, it’s ability to play with an obvious story in subtle ways. There’s never a moment when Gaslight tries for loud, if you will, even in the moments of great tension and suspense it stays with its understated delivery.
Where the 1940 Gaslight is most efficient is in the acting, especially that of Anton Walbrook. He is incredibly subtle and does lots of amazing things to further along the mystery without being heavy about it. There’s one moment when he’s having a discussion with his wife lamenting her failing mind and in a neat little touch he walks to the wall and touches a hanging picture to remind her of the constantly missing pictures. With a lot of moments like that Walbrook is dastardly in his role but he’s never over the top. He is menacing because of how cold and cutting he is most of the time. Diana Wynyard is quite good as the wife and I preferred Cathleen Cordell as Nancy the maid in this Gaslight over Angela Lansbury’s turn as the same character in the remake.
There are times when the understated nature of Gaslight works against it. It’s a bit too slow and the pacing is off at times. But, most importantly it struggles with its mood. It sets a tone early on, but I never felt it went deep enough into that mood, both with music and cinematography. A little more mood would have enhanced the picture even further.
It shouldn’t come as no surprise that I find the 1940 Gaslight to be far superior to the 1944 Gaslight. I tend to like stripped down movies over bloated affairs, and the actors in the 1940 Gaslight outshone their 1944 counterparts by a good margin. Gaslight, the 1940 version, is a really good “what’s he doing” mystery that plays well on the screen and brings you in with the story. Anton Walbrook is very evil in his part, and it is without doubt that I recommend you see this Gaslight over the 1944 Hollywood version.