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Saturday Night Cinema: Gaslight (1940)

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic is Gaslight, starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard. Most people are more familiar with MGM’s version of the award-winning play starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, but this long-forgotten jewel must be seen. The sinister Anton Walbrook is better than Boyer. He is as villianous here as he was in The Red Shoes. Deliciously evil. MGM famously tried to destroy this film’s negatives so it wouldn’t compete with its own 1944 remake. Good thing they didn’t, because we wouldn’t have the great fortunate of watching the darker side of Anton Walbrook.

Oozing faux continental charm, Anton Walbrook inveigles his way into the confidence of the young mistress (Diana Wynyard) of a large Victorian mansion. Walbrook is searching for the rubies that he’d stolen from the previous owner of the house — whom he’d also murdered. Suspecting that Wynyard is about to catch on to his secret, Walbrook enlists the aid of a sluttish maidservant to drive his loving bride crazy. The ploy almost works, but Wynyard is rescued by an unexpected ally. Gaslight was released in the U.S. as Murder in Thornton Square, then withdrawn entirely on the occasion of MGM’s expensive 1944 remake of Gaslight, which starred Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. To avoid confusion, MGM allegedly ordered that all prints of the original Gaslight be destroyed. Evidently that order was not honored to the letter, since the 1940 Gaslight is still safely available for both theatrical and TV exhibition. ~ Hal Erickson,

The Time Out critic wrote, “The first film version of Patrick Hamilton’s stage play about a Victorian criminal who tries to drive his wife mad in order to prevent her from discovering his guilty secret while he searches their house for a stash of precious rubies. Nothing like as lavish as the later MGM version with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, but in its own small-scale way a superior film by far. Lurking menace hangs in the air like a fog, the atmosphere is electric, and Wynyard suffers exquisitely as she struggles to keep dementia at bay.”

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