Romance. Murder. Suspense. Danger. Mystery.
Another “must not miss” selection on TCM this week!
Paula was only 10 years old when her best friend and only relation, her aunt, was murdered in her home. Paula stumbled downstairs to discover her beloved aunt’s body and see the back of the man who killed her racing out the door. Instantly she was wealthy…and alone. According to her late aunt’s wishes, she is sent away to Italy to be educated. The police never catch the murderer or discover the motive behind the murder.
Fastforward some years later, and Paula (Ingrid Bergman) is now a lovely young woman studying music in Italy. Her aunt was a famous opera singer, and though Paula looks like her late aunt, she didn’t inherit her musical ability. Still, Paula persists in the music lessons because she has fallen in love with her maestro’s pianist, Gregory (Charles Boyer). Even though there is a significant age difference between them, they elope and decide to return to live in the house Paula inherited from her aunt – the house where her aunt was murdered.
Paula has dreams of living a life of leisure as a lady of means with an artistic composer husband, but before long strange things begin to happen. Her memory starts to deteriorate – she loses trinkets, forgets appointments, even finds that she has done tasks throughout the day and has no memory of them. This progresses to the point that Gregory will no longer let her leave the house without him, or go into any social situation, because he is afraid she’ll have an “episode” in public.
And every night, when she is alone (Gregory works at night) she thinks she sees the gaslights flicker, accompanied by strange noises throughout the house. None of the servants notice the lights or the sounds. Paula is too afraid to tell Gregory about seeing the lights go dark every night, worried he will think she’s finally snapped and put her in an asylum.
One day they are out and a young police detective, Mr. Cameron (Joseph Cotton) sees Paula and instantly recognizes her as aunt’s niece. He has been obsessed with Paula’s aunt’s unsolved murder and decides to visit Paula and see if she can give him any new information. He discovers that Paula’s aunt had some valuable jewels she collected from around the world, that no one ever knew the location of and may or may not have been stolen during the murder.
After visiting with Paula, Mr. Cameron becomes convinced that her aunt’s murder is not a cold case, that the murderer is still out there, and that Paula herself may now be in danger. But can he convince Paula to help him – and convince her that she is capable of helping herself – before it is too late?
“Gaslight” is a movie I have loved since high school, and the movie that made me love Ingrid Bergman. She’s more famous for “Casablanca,” to be sure, and Casablanca is in many ways a superior movie. However, “Gaslight” is what won her the Best Actress Oscar, and rightfully so. Bergman’s monologue at the film’s dénouement knocks me out of my seat every time. Her skills go beyond those few minutes, though. In the span of just under two hours we see Paula go from a sweet, naïve young lady (18 or 19) to a psychologically-tortured woman beyond hope to a woman fighting for her life and her sanity, always on the edge of believable emotion but never going too far. It’s a truly Oscar-worthy performance.
The rest of the cast is also great. Charles Boyer as Gregory, Paula’s husband, is pitch-perfect in every scene, as always. Angela Lansbury, in one of her first films, plays their saucy maid and is adorable. Dame May Whitty is Paula’s nosy neighbor who unwittingly helps Mr. Cameron put together all the puzzle pieces. And even Joseph Cotton, whom I’m normally not a fan of, does a great job keeping Mr. Cameron on task keeping him balanced between being objective about his investigation and genuinely concerned about the welfare of a woman married to another man.
“Gaslight” never disappoints, even after repeat viewings. It will be on TCM Friday, at 11:30 PM CST. So this would be a great late-night weekend choice or even better as a DVR setting. Don’t miss it!
Since You Went Away (1944) – Monday, 7:00 PM CST
Rebel Without A Cause (1955) – Tuesday, 11:00 PM CST
The Spiral Staircase (1945) – Friday, 7:00 PM CST
The Mad Miss Manton (1938) – Saturday, 11:00 PM CST
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic (1990) – Sunday, 6:00 PM CST
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