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Gaslight (1944)

Gaslight. Feature film. (1944, 114 mins) IMDB

...It's not obvious but the title is relevant to the story....

A

t what point do you say to yourself, I've seen that movie. When you see the title? Yes, I've seen DIE HARD. Maybe when you recognize the stars on the poster. Maybe it isn't until you've watched a few minutes of the film and sometimes it's not until you reach a point in the film where there is something unique to the film and you remember it and finally, say, yes, I've seen this movie before.

GASLIGHT fits into the later. I wasn't sure if I had seen it before. I knew all the actors and the director. That didn't help. The title isn't immediately suggestive of what happens in the story. It wasn't until I saw a boarded-up door at the top of a set of stairs that I realized I had seen this movie before and the moment doesn't happen until the second act.

Gaslight refers to a time in London when houses and streets were lit with natural gas. A novelty in a way, but relevant to the story because as more lights are turned on there is a noticeable fluctuation in the flame. In other words, someone on the second floor can tell if someone turned on the gas on the first floor.

As are most films, this one is classically structured. Act I, II & III. Each act different from the rest.

In Act I we learn there has been a murder in a fashionable area of the city. The niece and orphan of the murder victim travels to Italy where she studies music and meets piano player Boyer. They fall in love and marry even though there is a large gap in their ages.

They decide to take up residence in London--the home where the murder took place, her late aunt's house. It's been vacant for a number of years and filled with reminders of her aunt. It haunts the niece and everything is carted up to the top of the house, the door boarded up and sealed. We're into Act II.

Charles Boyer always has this charming, friendly, easy-going demeanour and it is evident in this film. We don't suspect anything evil in him, but it's there as we discover in Act III.

In Act II, he plays on Paula's mental state. Giving her a broach which she loses it. The sound of footsteps from above, the gaslight flickering. It all seems as if she's going mad and we've not sure if she is, but when we are sure she isn't, we're not sure what Boyer is up to.

She's also held captive in the house. Too ill and disturbed to leave. Again, it's her husband's doing. He's up to something but we're not sure what.

Enter the Joseph Cotton character. He's a detective type with Scotland yard. I'm not sure how an American can play a Brit, but that's the way it goes. If there was an explanation, I missed it.

Cotton becomes a cold case officer. He's looking into the unsolved death of the aunt. It leads him to Paula and Boyer and he's disturbed by what he finds. It's through him we realize Paula is being manipulated.

Cotton helps to uncover Boyer's plan and evidence he killed the aunt. Case solved.

This movie doesn't play like a typical murder mystery. It's much more subtle. That's why a second viewing can be more satisfying.

The film earned several Oscar nominations and awards. Many believe Boyer should have won instead of Bing Crosby.

Posted 2009/02/04 at 19h09ET in Movie Commentary.

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