Eavesdroppers the world over would pay top dollar to live in my San Francisco apartment. I can hear what my neighbors are sizzling for dinner, the fights they have with their boyfriends, and certainly which of the many ear-piercing Hollywood blockbusters are booming on their TVs. When I finally received Gaslight this week, a movie that took quite some time to come out on DVD, my “Ingrid Bergman” mood was in full form — I poured myself a glass of red, tipped up my nose and chin slightly (a significant gesture of my Bergman mood), and settled in for the familiar and soothing sound of her voice. Then suddenly, as if the car had burst from their screen and crashed through my window, the heavy gas and screeching breaks of some recent movie’s car chase hastily drowned out Gaslight’s opening credits. I went from Bergman to bitter in a matter of seconds and stood up to postpone the experience. As I moved towards the TV, I caught a glimpse of her face in her first Oscar-winning role — she told me to sit back down.
Returning to the London house in which her aunt was murdered years ago, Miss Bergman’s Paula Alquist slowly begins to lose her mind. She becomes forgetful and delusional, as gas levels seem to go up and down on their own, pictures disappear off the wall, and strange noises from the attic all distract from her sanity. I know the feeling, but luckily Paula didn’t have San Francisco, car chase-obsessed neighbors to deal with as well! Teasing me throughout the film is that all of these occurrences may be at the hand of Paula’s husband, played by Charles Boyer. Another actor I first met via I Love Lucy, Mr. Boyer always puts a smile on my face, sometimes to the detriment of his role. But that bewitching face and delicious accent makes for a charmingly chilling performance, and he had no trouble giving me a scare or two.
Helping him along, of course, were Ingrid Bergman’s powerfully subtle reactions, as she slips slowly into what she assumes is mental illness. I loved them together, and the final scene between Miss Bergman and Mr. Boyer is remarkable. This is when I really saw that Oscar fluttering into her hand, and it was surely worth sitting through two or three of the film’s slower moments. The roaring special effects that so hypnotized my neighbors distracted me just long enough to overlook Miss Angela Lansbury’s name on those opening credits. If you can get beyond only seeing her in the autumn of her life, as most of know her, the 17-year-old Miss Lansbury is a trampy treasure in Gaslight, earning her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Pick this one up if you come across it . . . it’s a bit of a gem!
Academy Awards for Gaslight (1945): Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White