GASLIGHT (1940) B/W 85m dir: Thorold Dickinson
w/Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell, Cathleen Cordell, Robert Newton, Jimmy Hanley, Minnie Rayner, Mary Hinton, Marie Wright, Jack Barty
From The Movie Guide: "A lost black pearl, better than Mayer's sugar-coated 1944 version. This British psychological thriller is truly a forgotten masterpiece due to the machinations of MGM's Louis B. Mayer.
"In one of her finest roles, Wynyard is a wealthy patrician lady who marries the urbane but calculating Walbrook. They move into an 1880 mansion, her ancestral London home, where Cordell is the ever-present brazen maid. Before long, Wynyard notices the gaslight in her rooms flickers downward nightly and comes to believe that this is a hallucination. Meanwhile, through clever, subtle measures, Walbrook slowly drives her to the brink of insanity, convincing her that she is losing her memory. Pettingell, a kindly and perceptive Scotland Yard detective, meets Wynyard socially and begins paying attention to her and Walbrook --- too much attention from the latter's point of view.
"Columbia purchased the rights to the film in 1941, intending an American remake with Irene Dunne in the lead. Then MGM bought the property for Hedy Lamarr who unwisely turned it down. When the Ingrid Bergman-Charles Boyer production was shot in 1944, Mayer ordered his minions to track down all the prints of the original GASLIGHT and destroy them, so it would never compete with his lavish production. Fortunately, prints survived. It's one of the most stylish British films to be made before WWII and one of director Dickinson's most polished works, each scene carefully set up as the tension mounts brilliantly, frame by frame. Walbrook is magnificent as the arch villain, his extravagant Middle-European acting style bordering on the flamboyant, his dark charm shrouding his evil purposes."
From Leonard Maltin's 1997 Movie & Video Guide : "First version of Patrick Hamilton's play about an insane criminal who drives his wife crazy in order to discover hidden jewels. What this version lacks in budget, compared to MGM's remake, it more than makes up for in electrifying atmosphere, delicious performances, and a succinctly conveyed sense of madness and evil lurking beneath the surface of the ordinary. MGM supposedly tried to destroy the negative of this original when they made the remake, but it has survived and finally resurfaced to be appreciated in all its glory. Screenplay by A.R. Rawlinson and Bridgit Boland. U.S. Title: ANGEL STREET."
From the Turner Classic Movies website, www.tcm.com, this article about both versions of GASLIGHT by Martin Scorsese, published in the June 2017 edition of the TCM viewer's guide Now Playing: "This month, TCM is offering viewers an interesting opportunity to study two very different adaptations of the same play made within a few years of one another: the first in England and the second in Hollywood. Gas Light, set in Victorian London, was written by the English playwright and novelist Patrick Hamilton in 1938. Hamilton had his greatest successes as a playwright--his second most famous play was Rope, adapted by Alfred Hitchcock--but he is more highly regarded as a novelist. He was, it seems, a deeply troubled man (he died at the age of 58 from alcoholism, apparently brought on by a car accident in the early 30s that left him disfigured), and his temperament is reflected in his novels, many of them set in the seedy worlds of London and Brighton pubs and boarding houses. He was admired by Graham Greene, J. B. Priestley and Doris Lessing, and a 2013 article in The Times begins with the assertion that Hamilton 'was one of the finest novelists of the 20th century.' What's interesting about Gas Light and Rope is that, unlike Hamilton's novels, they are each set within his own upper middle class world (he wrote two other less successful plays, one of which, The Duke in Darkness, is set in 16th century France during the time of the religious wars). But one of the principal characters in Gas Light, the husband, is a gentleman in disguise, a creature from the harsher world of Hamilton's novels.
"Hamilton's play, about a con man who marries an upper crust woman and then gradually convinces her that she's going mad, premiered on the West End in 1938 and ran for six months, and it had an even longer run on Broadway in 1944 (where it was retitled Angel Street), with Vincent Price as the husband and Judith Evelyn (who would later play 'Miss Lonelyhearts' in Rear Window) as the wife. The first film version was made in England in 1940 by Thorold Dickinson, who stepped in to direct three weeks before the start of production, with Anton Walbrook as the husband and Diana Wynard as the wife. George Cukor's more famous 1944 version was made at MGM with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. The differences between the two versions are striking. The Dickinson version is visually stark and borderline austere, while the Cukor version is plush and visually sumptuous. The relationship between the couple in the Dickinson version forefronts the cruelty--Walbrook is a forbidding authoritarian figure, and Wynard is a wealthy ugly duckling. In the Cukor version, Boyer is suave and truly romantic, and he appears to have actually married Bergman for her great beauty. In the Dickinson version, the detective who uncovers the husband's scheme is a good-natured middle-aged man played by Frank Petingell, a veteran character actor. In the Cukor version, the detective is played by Joseph Cotten, and the implication is that he's fallen in love with Bergman. It's instructive to watch these pictures back to back, because they represent two equally compelling and exciting approaches to Hamilton's original. MGM attempted to destroy all extant prints and negatives of Dickinson's version when they acquired the property--unsuccessfully as it turns out--so we should realize how lucky we are to have both pictures to compare."