Best Picture Winners #17a – Gaslight (1944)

There are some years when it seems the Academy should’ve chosen a different Best Picture. I know some people like How Green Was My Valley but really, The Maltese Falcon was the better movie in 1941. Same with The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. I know some people like You Can’t Take It With You, but I’m not one of them.

I get that it was the middle of World War Two. So people probably wanted something happy to forget about the world for a while. But between Going My Way, an overlong drama not-musical-but-claims-it-is, and something mysterious, dark and extremely well-done like Gaslight, Gaslight should’ve won.

Not only is it the better movie, but also it kept me riveted to the edge of my seat the entire time. Can’t say that about Going My Way. Even when I could see what was going on and how it was going to end, I was drawn in and had to know what was happening next.

Plus, we got a cool expression from this movie’s title.

For those who may not know, gaslighting refers to someone being manipulated into thinking they are losing their sanity. Moving objects around to disorient the victim. Denying that previous events ever happened. The name comes from this movie, where the main villain, Gregory Anton, dims the gas lights in the house while he’s using the lights in the attic in search of missing jewels. When his wife, Paula, accurately notes the lights dimming, he tells her it’s just her imagination.

Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman; hey, wait, we know you from last year’s BP winner!) is an orphan. Before the movie began, Paula’s mom died in childbirth, so she went to live with her aunt, a world-famous opera singer. When Paula was a child, she walked in on her aunt being strangled, then the perpetrator ran away and the case went cold. So she’s in Rome learning to sing, following in her aunt’s footsteps. And when it comes to her aunt, she seems to have a mild case of PTSD. She becomes very uncomfortable and upset when her aunt is mentioned.

While in Rome, after spending many years there developing her voice, Paula falls in love with a man named Gregory Anton. They have a whirlwind courtship. After they get married, Paula and Gregory return to her aunt’s home, which was left to Paula, in London. This is where Gregory’s manipulation of Paula begins. See, Gregory is not all that he seems. He has a secret to hide from her and he will keep it from her any way he can. Even if it means making Paula feel like she’s going mad.

It’s harrowing to watch as Gregory undermines his wife. At a public music concert, he makes her think she’s taken his watch and she’s humiliated in public when she cries. He tells the servants that she’s not all there. He forbids other people from seeing her. I wanted to do to Gregory what I wanted to do to Rob Titchener, a character from the British radio soap The Archers, who has been using the same techniques on his wife in the last two years of the show: reach through the screen and strangle him.

A movie should make you feel for the characters. And that’s exactly what this movie did for me. It was intense even over seventy years later and, definitely, a new favorite.

Four stars out of five

Next time: The 1945 Best Picture winner, The Lost Weekend, an alcohol cautionary tale. Hoooo boy….