Sometimes a director's greatest success can be the cause of their downfall. If Thorold Dickinson's career didn't entirely fail, the huge success of his original 1940 British adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight - along with the Second World War - certainly derailed it into one of occasional features and frequent projects falling through leaving him with a tragically small body of work. When MGM bought the remake rights they demanded the negative and all copies be destroyed, and but with Dickinson turning down an invitation to go to Hollywood to stay in Britain making public information films during the war (several included on the BFI's Blu-ray/DVD combo release) he found himself unable to establish much of a career after hostilities ended, especially since he was legally barred from showing prospective employers the print of Gaslight he had saved from the furnace. For years the film went unseen, its reputation overshadowed by the lavish Hollywood remake.
Dickinson was, as with his other film with Anton Walbrook, 1949's Queen Of Spades [DVD], a replacement director (in this case after Anthony Asquith dropped out when the film's shooting schedule was brought forward), though at least this time he had 20 days before shooting to completely rework the script from the original screenplay's blood-and-thunder melodrama that gave the game away from the very first scene to something more restrained and claustrophobic. Hamilton's play had already been adapted for pre-war television and radio and would become much imitated both on onstage and on screen until the premise of a husband trying to drive his wife insane would become something of an old chestnut, but as even Hamilton had to admit despite his dislike of the changes to his plot, in Dickinson's hands it's a remarkably assured piece of filmmaking bolstered by fine performances.
Even without the opening murder by unseen hands we'd know that there's something wrong with Anton Walbrook's ostensibly devoted and overprotective husband, and not just because he's socially beyond the pale for the polite society in Pimlico Square London where he moves into with his delicate wife Diana Wynyard move into. With his displays of pious Victorian morality and regard for appearances offset by the dirty laugh he reserves for Cathleen Cordell's parlour maid whose face has dirty weekend written all over it ("You are inexperienced, aren't you?" "Depends how you mean, sir."), we know he's not a real smoothie but a pretender. It's the kind of part that could easily be overacted to unintentionally comic effect, but Walbrook has a restrained malice that's all the more effective for being underplayed until his own sanity is forfeit as the tables are turned. It's such a remarkably intense performance that it's reputation has tended to overshadow Wynyard's work as the wife who is so controlled by his mind games that she starts to believe she really is mad and that the noises in the sealed-off attic and the flickering gaslight are just symptoms of her disease until she can't even believe that her potential saviour, Frank Pettingell's amiable retired policeman ("I don't like these violent methods. Makes me feel like a dentist"), is real. And as the last shot so eloquently expresses, saving her sanity means losing everything else in her life. As Walbrook contemptuously tells her, "God help you indeed."
The budget was only £39,000, shockingly low even for a British film in 1940 let alone compared to the $2m budget of the 1944 remake, but it never looks cheap - the only noticeable technical flaws are the painted backdrop in one shot, the cleverly disguised scarcity of extras in the music hall set pressed back into service from the producers' Will Hay comedy Those Were The Days [DVD] and the kind of fog that doesn't move when the camera does that you only get from an optical printer. The film's Pimlico Square set is impressive and the film has a great visual sense (cinematographer Bernard Knowles had shot five films for Hitchcock, including The 39 Steps), but just as importantly the elegant and elaborate camerawork is used to add to the performances and build the drama rather than just show off. Running a concise 85 minutes, it never feels rushed or compromised, but so perfectly realised it would have been a tragedy if it had truly been lost forever.
Considering the film was lost and the BFI's Blu-ray transfer came from a 35mm print that needed restoration work the quality is impressive: a few shots have minor contrast issues or lack of depth but for the most part the film looks excellent. There's a very impressive collection of extras as well, with a detailed booklet covering the film, Dickinson and the self-destructive Patrick Hamilton's careers and five of Dickinson's documentaries - two of his pro-Republican films about the Spanish Civil War (Spanish ABC and Behind the Spanish Lines) and three of his wartime public information films, Westward Ho! (in its original uncut version before the footage of European mothers expressing their regret for not evacuating their children before it was too late was removed because it distressed the film's target audience), Miss Grant Goes to War (a cautionary tale about German invaders in the Home Counties) and Yesterday is Over Your Shoulder (featuring talented farceur Robertson Hare as an unskilled worker joining a government training scheme). Even if you've got the film as an extra on the US DVD of the 1944 version (one that ironically wasn't carried over for the film's British DVD release), it's well worth considering an upgrade.
Having only ever owned the later version of this Great British Classic, and not having seen this for years (due its immense lack of publicity and availability) it is easy to forget. However; in many ways, this is by far a better movie than the much appraised Hollywood version. This does not mean that the latter is not a good film (it is - it used to be my favourite. See my Review for that title) but they are two very different productions of the same story that have a place of recommendation - each in their own right.
This version is far more 'claustrophobic' and 'arty' than its Hollywood counterpart. It also stars the legendary Anton Walbrook, who, in my opinion is far more sinister than Charles Boyer could ever be - and always manages to scare me to death when he played these types of roles. A classic example of this is one scene in particular where he has his hand half covering his face as he spies the reaction of his wife through his fingers during his attempts at driving her out of her mind!
The great Diana Wynyard plays the unfortunate 'Bella' in this (as opposed to Bergman's 'Paula') - and she plays it well with a sort of 'far away' look that Bergman manages to achieve with ease due to her Norse bone structure. Primarily a stage actress; Wynyard's performance in this aspect seems much more 'deliberate' as a result. The music score is more 'eerie' and atmospheric too which always helps things along, and this also has a much better Intro. to the story than the latter movie did.
People raved over Angela Lansbury's performance as the 'maid' in the Hollywood version - but Cathleen Cordell (though ironically American - Lansbury being British-born) does an equally good job in my opinion in this, and was every bit as good.
Also stars an extremely young and very good-looking Jimmy Hanley - and a small part for Robert Newton (the man with the handsome eyes!)
I've wanted this version of the movie for years, and it was only thanks to another Amazon Review that made it known that this version is actually available and on the reverse side of the DVD Disc purchased from America, and plays only in Region 1. But a word of warning!! I have also since heard that this has been discontinued, and because it was never actually 'advertised' as being included in the package - either by the Artwork or description; some may be in for a disappointment if they place an Order for it and it is not included. Again; like another Reviewer has said; it is a disgrace that the original version has been sort of 'brushed under the carpet' as if it was some kind of 'flop' - far from it! After seeing this, you will probably end up preferring it of the two! Considering this has been so neglected, it is surprisingly good quality - both sound and picture-wise.
There are some 'extras' on this DVD - including Angela Lansbury speaking, and very modest she is too, as she gives her account of her time on the film, and admitting that without it, could have possibly robbed her of the big break into Hollywood she later got because of it. She also speaks highly of Britain's Barbara Everest - another great actress of the era, which I thought rather nice of her. Barbara Everest went on of course to star in many British Pictures - alongside Eric Portman for example in: ' Wanted For Murder'. (see my Review for that title)
on 4 November 2013
* Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
* Spanish A B C (Thorold Dickinson, Sidney Cole, 1938, 20 mins): a short film on the Republican efforts to improve education standards during the Spanish Civil War
* Behind the Spanish Lines (Sidney Cole, Thorold Dickinson, 1938, 20 mins): a companion piece to Spanish Civil War
* Westward Ho! (Thorold Dickinson, 1940, 9 mins): a short film to promote the evacuation of urban children to rural areas
* Miss Grant Goes to the Door (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1940, 7 mins): a short film about a German invasion from a story by Dickinson
* Yesterday is Over Your Shoulder (Thorold Dickinson, 1940, 9 mins): a short film encouraging unskilled workers to join free, government organised, engineering training schemes
* Original promotional materials and documents from the BFI National Archive (downloadable PDFs, DVD only)
on 8 January 2014
This classic of British cinema has been unavailable for far too long. It appeared briefly as the flip side of the later Bergman/Boyer version, attached obviously as something of a curiosity, rather than as a film of outstanding merit in its own right. Then it vanished without trace.
Well, the British Film Institute has now turned up trumps and produced a sumptuously remastered two-disc set (blu-ray version and 'normal') of this stunner, and we need suffer the pangs of deprivation no longer.
Directed by Thorold Dickinson, 'Gaslight' exudes period atmosphere and beautifully played menace. Anton Walbrook is on top form as what must be one of the creepiest vilains ever, with Diana Wynyard as a lovely, vulnerable, dutiful wife being slowly driven out of her mind. Yes, this is pure melodrama at its very best - the stuff of shudders, but for the few who do not know the story, there will be no plot-spoiling here. Suffice it to say that the play on which it is based was famous for very good reasons, and it is wonderful to see this magnificent film version being given the respect due to it at last.
We certainly knew how to make good movies. And as if that was not sufficient, the discs have the added bonus of several of the director's fascinating and beautifully photographed documentaries.
The BFI deserves hearty congratulations for a five-star addition to its catalogue.
on 28 October 2007
Anton Walbrook, Frank Pettingell, Robert Newton, Diana Wynward
British Black & White 1940
Original 1940s rediscovered in the vaults of MGM
Originally released in Britain as "Gaslight" but in America as "Angel Street" and thought to have been destroyed. Remade in 1944 by MGM but did not capture the suspense and tension of this original 1940 British version. An obsessed murderer and thief slowly drives his fragile wife to the brink of insanity as he desperately searches for a cache of priceless jewels, which he failed to find when he murdered his aunt....
on 7 November 2013
Patrick Hamilton's play Gas Light was a huge hit in when it opened in 1938, so it's hardly surprising that this hit film was turned round so quickly. Although not opened up far beyond its theatrical origins, director Thorold Dickinson did a remarkable job evoking a terrifying, gothic and very cinematic world.
The film was famously suppressed by American studio MGM when they made their own version of the film starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. As a result, Dickinson's British original has always been overshadowed by it's Hollywood rival - and it's always been far more difficult to get to see.
For anyone who likes their thrillers dark, dangerous and sadistic, this delivers in spades - not unlike Hitchcock at his best. It feels more tense, cruel and adult than George Cuckor's remake and revels in its overripe, melodramatic Victorian setting.
This newly remastered version looks and sounds exceptional. As always with the BFI's label, there are a wide range of extras. Some of these seem a bit esoteric and eccentrically chosen, but should appeal to people who are particularly interested in finding out more about Dickinson's documentary-making career and provide a glimpse of life at the time Gaslight was made.
This original 1940 version of Gaslight is occasionally shown on U.K. TV - I watched it this time as part of Film 4's Movies for Life series, though shown about lunchtime, so many would have missed it.
Which is a pity. It's got tons of atmosphere, even more hiss and crackles and the fog clings to everything like a favourite old overcoat. Rather than the sheen and shine of the always gleaming Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 re-make, this looks and feels like the creepy horror film that it is.
But remake they obviously did and I, for one, would not say either is better than the other. They're both very similar but also very different and each has virtues the other hasn't. The obvious star appeal of the later one is the real draw, along with the polish of George Cukor's direction, but that somehow detracts from the ordinariness of the original. There it's the story and the surroundings plus the real atmosphere that are the stars.
It must have seemed like strange fare for its time, though as we don't usually associate early WW2 cinema-goers having a liking for such dark stuff.
I have always enjoyed the story; how under posh middle class Pimlico town-house roofs lie madness, murder and sadistic mental torture, though rather more subtly done than my list might suggest.
Others have written longer reviews with every plot twist, so I'm purposefully keeping mine short. I would say that if you've seen and enjoyed the 1944 one, keep an eye out for this one, whether on TV (get your recording device ready) or any other method, as it's certain you'll love this one too.
My five stars may be a little generous, but Gaslight mk 1 is definitely an un-flaunted and underrated - and overshadowed original little classic.
Gaslight is directed by Thorold Dickinson and co-written by A.R. Rawlinson and Bridget Boland, who adapt from Patrick Hamilton's play Gas Light (1938). It stars Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell, Cathleen Cordell and Robert Newton. Music is by Richard Addinsell and photography by Bernard Knowles.
Alice Barlow is murdered in her home by an unknown man, who proceeds to ransack the house looking for some valuable rubies belonging to the deceased. After sitting empty for years, Alice's house finally gets new owners, Paul (Walbrook) and Bella (Wynyard) Mallen. Not long after moving in Bella finds she may be losing her mind as she keeps misplacing things, hiding objects, imagining strange noises upstairs and convincing herself that the gaslights are weirdly dimming. All is not as it seems in this part of Pimlico Square....
Not as famous as MGM's more glossy version released in 1944, this is, however, every bit the equal of the Ingrid Bergman Oscar grabber. Though stories of MGM to burning the negatives of this film have over the years been embellished, it's true that they did all they could to suppress the release of the film in America. Thing is, they needn't have worried, for Dickinson's film is a very British piece anyway, certainly you feel that their own American produced version would still have had the same popularity that it ultimately had.
Dickinson's film is a period melodrama dealing in psychological manipulation whilst casting a roving eye over the British class system in place at the time. There's also a caustic glance at the woman's place in the home, here poor Bella (Wynyard wonderfully correct in portrayal) just wants to be a good wife and be friendly in the neighbourhood, but her life as written is one defined by pure male dominance. This lets in Walbrook, who excels as Paul, ice cold, suave, sinister and effectively calm, you have to ask, what the hell did Bella see in this guy in the first place? Mood is always on the edge of unease, as Bella's mind starts to unravel and with the oppression that comes with the film mostly being set in this one London square, Gaslight starts to gnaw away at the senses. Knowles' monochrome photography dallys in ominous shadows, neatly cloaking the excellent sets in a menacing sheen, and Dickinson (The Arsenal Stadium Mystery) has a gift for tonal pacing and camera work that's not unlike a certain Mr. Hitchcock.
It's not perfect, secondary characters could have done with more flesh on the bones and Addinsell's music doesn't always hit the right atmospheric notes. But small moans aside, this is still a fine exponent of the period thriller drama. 8/10
For a film that was made in 1940 i was very impressed with the Blu-ray transfer, it gets a huge 5/5 from me.
Yes there was some scenes that were grainy but all in all a very nice upgrade, plus the sound was ok, which was in PCM Mono.
You get two discs, and a very nice 33 page booklet with loads of information about the film.
The film is shot in its original aspect ratio 1.331.
You get subtitles in English HOH.
Documentary-maker, writer and director Thorold Dickinson’s output was relatively sparse over his short career, but this 1940 psychological thriller, based on the play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton, certainly demonstrates the cinematic flair of the man. It is inevitable (well, for me, anyway) that Dickinson’s film should draw comparison with Hitchcock and Gaslight’s tale of (the superb) Anton Walbrook’s duplicitous husband, Paul Mallen, and his attempts to drive his wife, Diana Wynyard’s Bella, to the point of insanity (for his own mercenary reasons) called to my mind the likes of Rebecca and Notorious, as well as (in terms of the film’s look and feel), films from Hitch’s British period such as Sabotage and (even) The Lodger. And, although the film was no doubt made for a pittance, Dickinson and cinematographer Bernard Knowles do a great job evoking the film’s claustrophobic, misty, late 19th century London feel, which is complemented impressively by Richard Addinsell’s variously eerie, sweeping and dramatic score.
Key to the film’s increasingly disturbing mood, however, is Walbrook’s turn as the alternately haughty, playful, mysterious, seductive, possessive and increasingly volatile and cruel anti-hero, whose coercion of his 'beloved’ (as they return to the Pimlico house where twenty years earlier a murder and attempted robbery took place) is brilliantly depicted. Walbrook has delivered some brilliantly sympathetic turns in his time (perhaps most notably that in Powell and Pressburger’s The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp), but here he is more akin to his (similarly domineering) Boris Lermontov in the same film-makers’ The Red Shoes. Dickinson’s film is far from a one-man show, however, and Wynyard delivers her 'Joan Fontaine-like’ turn impressively, whilst Frank Pettingell is also particularly good as the ex-copper, now amateur sleuth, Rough, whose suspicions around Mallen’s past connection with the Pimlico residence are aroused.
Dickinson’s talent for cinematic symbolism is also to the fore via the use of the titular source of light as a plot driver, denoting both Bella’s increasingly fragile state of mind and Paul’s nefarious activities. Similarly, the film-maker sets up the film’s 'cockney backdrop’ nicely via Cathleen Cordell’s turn as the 'down-to-earth’ (and flirtatious) maid, Nancy, and the sequences depicting street Punch and Judy and music hall French can-can. There is also a highly effective sequence depicting Paul’s cruelty and highlighting Bella’s frailty during a piano recital.
I must admit to not having seen the Hollywood version (made 4 years later) of the film which, given its cast, must be worth a look, but I doubt it can surpass Walbrook’s great performance here.
The excellent BFI remastered Dual Format release also contains a 32-page booklet on the film, plus a number of Dickinson’s documentary shorts.