Gaslight (1944 film)

Gaslight is a 1944 American psychological-thriller film, adapted from Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play Gas Light, about a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going insane. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay; winning two for Best Actress and Best Production Design.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Produced byArthur Hornblow Jr.
Screenplay by
Based onGas Light
by Patrick Hamilton
Music byBronisław Kaper
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byRalph E. Winters
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release date
  • May 4, 1944 (1944-05-04)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,613,000[1]

The 1944 version was the second version to be filmed, following the British film Gaslight, directed by Thorold Dickinson and released in 1940. This 1944 version was directed by George Cukor and starred Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in an Oscar-nominated screen debut (Supporting Actress). Gaslight had a larger scale and budget than the earlier film, and lends a different feel to the material. To avoid confusion with the first film, this version was originally given the title The Murder in Thornton Square in the UK.[2] This film features numerous deviations from the original stage play, though the central drama of a husband trying to drive his wife insane in order to distract her from his criminal activities remains.

In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[3]


World-famous opera singer Alice Alquist has just been murdered at her home, No.9 Thornton Square. The perpetrator left without the jewels, for which he had killed her, after being interrupted by Paula, Alice's fourteen-year-old niece. Paula had been raised by her aunt Alice following her mother's death. After Alice was murdered, Paula was sent to Italy to train to become an opera star herself.

Years later, an adult Paula (Ingrid Bergman) meets and marries Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) after a two-week-long whirlwind romance. At his insistence, Paula returns to London, where she has no friends, to live in the long-vacant London townhouse of her deceased aunt Alice. To help calm her anxieties, Gregory suggests that they store all of Alice's furnishings in the attic. Before they do, Paula discovers, in an old book, a letter addressed to her aunt by a man named Sergis Bauer. Gregory's reaction is violent. However, he dismisses his outburst as one of frustration at the bad memories his bride is experiencing.

After Alice's belongings are locked away in the attic, events take a turn for the bizarre. At the Tower of London, Paula loses an heirloom brooch that Gregory had given her, despite its having been stored safely in her handbag. A picture disappears from the walls of the house; and Gregory says that Paula took it, one of many instances of her removing and hiding things. But Paula has no recollection of having done so. Paula also hears footsteps coming from the sealed attic, and sees the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests that these things exist only in her imagination.

Gregory isolates his wife from the outside world, implying that he is doing so for her own good, because her nerves have been acting up, causing her to become a kleptomaniac. He is also jealous and accusatory whenever others express an interest in her. When Gregory does take her out to a friend's house, he shows Paula his watch-chain, from which his watch has mysteriously disappeared. When Gregory conveniently finds it in her handbag, Paula becomes hysterical in front of all the guests, and Gregory takes her home. Paula begins to believe she should not go out in public. A young maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury), worsens the situation, as Paula becomes convinced that Nancy loathes her. Gregory secretly flirts with the maid and tells Paula that she is paranoid and is imagining the maid's disdain.

Paula does not know that her husband is really Sergis Bauer, her aunt's murderer. He sought out Paula in Italy with the aim of getting back into the house for Alice's jewels. He has been secretly rummaging through Alice's belongings in the attic to find the jewels which he is certain are still there. The footsteps Paula heard in the attic were actually his. The flickering gaslights which he claims she has imagined were caused by his turning on the attic lights, thus reducing the gas to the downstairs lights. The kleptomania exhibited by Paula is all sleight-of-hand by Gregory.

Gregory does everything in his power to convince his wife that she is going mad, hoping to have her institutionalized, giving him power of attorney over her, and allowing him to search unabated for the jewels. The plan almost works. Paula is saved by her trip to the Tower of London, as it also leads to a chance encounter with Inspector Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (Joseph Cotten), an admirer of Alice Alquist since childhood. Seeing Paula rekindles Cameron's interest in the cold case murder of Alice and her royal jewels that were never found. With the aid of the police, Cameron figures out that Gregory slips into a vacant house next door and enters his own attic via a skylight. Cameron eventually gets inside the house to see Paula and confirms that the gaslights are indeed flickering, and she discovers the letter from Bauer that Gregory had told her was a figment of her imagination.

That same evening, Gregory at last discovers the jewels hidden in plain sight, disguised as costume jewelry. He returns to the house to discover that Paula has apparently been visited by another man. Though he knows that he has been discovered, he convinces the still-confused Paula that everything is in her imagination. However, Cameron appears in the doorway behind and arrests him with the help of police. Paula, finally convinced of her own sanity, indulges herself in a bit of revenge. She taunts Gregory, who is now bound to a chair but still trying to manipulate her, suggesting that she might cut him free so that he can escape justice. She muses that the knife in her hand might not be real, before calling in Cameron to take him away.




Encouraged by the success of the play and the British 1940 film, MGM bought the remake rights, but with a clause insisting that all existing prints of the first film be destroyed,[4] even to the point of trying to destroy the negative.[5][6] Evidently that order was not honored to the letter, since the 1940 Gaslight remains available for both theatrical exhibition and television screenings, as well as DVD release.

Gaslight as expression

The psychological term gaslighting, which describes the form of psychological abuse in which the victim is gradually manipulated into doubting his or her own sanity, originated from the play and its two film adaptations. The fictional work is also the first artistic portrayal of this type of psychological abuse.[7][8]


Box office

According to MGM records the film earned $2,263,000 in the US and Canada and $2,350,000 in overseas markets resulting in a profit of $941,000.[1]

Critical response

When Gaslight was released, The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther praised the actors. He wrote, "And with Mr. Boyer doing the driving in his best dead-pan hypnotic style, while the flames flicker strangely in the gas-jets and the mood music bongs with heavy threats, it is no wonder that Miss Bergman goes to pieces in a most distressing way. Both of these popular performers play their roles right to the hilt. Nice little personality vignettes are interestingly contributed, too, by Joseph Cotten as a stubborn detective, Dame May Whitty and Angela Lansbury as a maid."[9]

Ingrid Bergman's role is often considered by film critics to be amongst the greatest Best Actress Oscar winning performances ever as well as her personal best. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 87% based on reviews from 30 critics.[10]

Noir analysis

In 2006, film critic Emanuel Levy discussed the film noir aspects of the film:

A thriller soaked in paranoia, Gaslight is a period films [sic] noir that, like Hitchcock's The Lodger and Hangover Square, is set in the Edwardian age. It's interesting to speculate about the prominence of a film cycle in the 1940s that can be described as 'Don't Trust Your Husband'. It began with three Hitchcock films: Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and continued with Gaslight and Jane Eyre (both in 1944), Dragonwyck (1945), Notorious and The Spiral Staircase (both 1946), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), and Sorry, Wrong Number and Sleep, My Love (both 1948). All of these films use the noir visual vocabulary and share the same premise and narrative structure: The life of a rich, sheltered woman is threatened by an older, deranged man, often her husband. In all of them, the house, usually a symbol of sheltered security in Hollywood movies, becomes a trap of terror.[8]


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[11] Best Picture Arthur Hornblow Jr. Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Charles Boyer Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Ingrid Bergman Won
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Angela Lansbury Nominated
Best Writing, Screenplay John L. Balderston, Walter Reisch, and John Van Druten Nominated
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Joseph Ruttenberg Nominated
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons, Paul Huldschinsky, and Edwin B. Willis Won
Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize of the Festival George Cukor Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Ingrid Bergman Won
New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress Nominated

See also


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. BBFC: The Murder in Thornton Square Linked 2014-03-08
  3. Tartaglione, Nancy (December 11, 2019). "National Film Registry Adds 'Purple Rain', 'Clerks', 'Gaslight' & More; 'Boys Don't Cry' One Of Record 7 Pics From Female Helmers". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
  4. "BFI Screenonline: Dickinson, Thorold (1903–1984) Biography". Retrieved 2014-02-22.
  5. Fristoe, Roger. "Gaslight (1940)" on
  6. Horne, Philip (2008-10-04). "Thorold Dickinson's 1949 film The Queen of Spades has been called 'a masterpiece' by Martin Scorsese – so why is his work not better known?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-05-30.
  7. Rush, Florence (February 1992). The best-kept secret: sexual abuse of children. Human Services Institute. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8306-3907-6. Retrieved 16 June 2011.
  8. Levy, Emanuel (2006). "Gaslight: Cukor's Masterpiece Starring Ingrid Bergman in Oscar-Winning Performance".
  9. Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, May 5, 1944. Accessed: July 24, 2013.
  10. "Gaslight (1944)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
  11. "Gaslight". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
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