Blog Directory CineVerse: The jewels--and justice

The jewels--and justice

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Gaslight" proved to be a fitting closing statement on CineVerse's exploration of the Gothic romance subgenre these past four weeks. While the movie lacked the ornate and brooding Gothic architecture that often fills the settings of these stories, all the other tropes and conventions of this movement were on full display, as detailed in our post-discussion notes below. Here's our take on "Gaslight":


  • It functions as both a thriller and a tense character study, according to reviewer James Berardinelli. A big part of the fascination of this film is watching Bergman’s character fall under her husband’s spell due to her innocence and naïveté. 
    • He wrote: “But no film…can match this picture's intricate psychology. Paula's self-doubt builds slowly as her husband meticulously orchestrates her spiral into insanity. Since she's completely in his thrall, she never senses that he represents a threat.” 
  • It has a stellar cast, featuring two strongly romantic leads: Bergman, then considered a ravishing beauty and A-list actress, who won her first of three best actress Academy Awards for this part, and Charles Boyer, known for playing suave and sophisticated romantic male characters (here playing against his protagonist image as an antagonist), as well as an Oscar-nominated Angela Lansbury (in one of her first screen roles) and Joseph Cotten. 
    • Blogger Rob Vaux wrote of Boyer: “Boyer’s reputation as an onscreen lover defined his career (Pepe Le Pew, the cartoon skunk, is a direct parody of his persona), and he deploys that reputation to devastating effect here. He remains charming, seductive and seemingly sympathetic throughout: appearing for all the world like a caring human being dedicated to a very sick wife.” 
  • This film underscores the terror that women suspected of being even slightly mentally ill must have felt during this patriarchal period in Victorian England, when they had few rights and could be accused of being hysterical and sent to asylums. Director George Cukor, known for directing women’s pictures featuring strong female leads, is arguably the right filmmaker for this movie. 
    • “Cukor, a closeted homosexual, understood that better than most men I think, and endeavored to use it to accentuate his heroine’s plight,” Vaux added. 
  • Boyer’s husband character plays into a familiar epitome found in 1940s-era films noir, the “psycho dandy.” 
    • Senses of Cinema essayist David Melville defined this character as “An immaculately groomed gentleman of refined taste and nonexistent morals, who would turn without scruple to murder to possess the object of his desire. Other examples of this type are Clifton Webb in Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944), George Macready in Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946) and Eric Portman in Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young, 1948). He can be traced back to the darker strains of Romantic literature. Each of these men is implicitly gay or, at least, asexual. He may seek to possess Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth…as a sort of living art object – to dress her and groom her and transform her into his own aesthetic fantasy. He does not, by any stretch of the imagination, want to have sex with her. The script may pretend otherwise, of course – but only to keep the censors quiet. Boyer’s role in Gaslight is an intriguing variation on this type.…The husband is a man whose primary erotic response is not to women (or even to other men) but to jewels – to priceless and coldly exquisite objets d’art.” 
  • Alter egos and dual natures: consider how Bergman is compared to her dead aunt and contrasted with Angela Lansbury’s younger and more erotic character. 
  • Psychological abuse, marital manipulation and erotic sadism 
  • Duplicity and deceit 
  • A brooding house filled with dark secrets 
  • A doomed/haunted relationship 
  • High contrast noir-ish lighting 
  • An isolated female protagonist 
  • A servant who plays a somewhat important role 
  • Class differences between the male and female leads 
  • A suspenseful story imbued with mystery and intrigue 
  • Movies within the “young heroine believes she’s threatened by the man she loves” subgenre, including Rebecca, Suspicion, Undercurrent, Conspirator, Sorry Wrong Number, and Dial M For Murder 
  • The Lady Vanishes, by virtue of both pictures featuring Dame May Whitty 
  • Hitchcock’s Notorious 
  • The Philadelphia Story 
  • My Fair Lady 
  • A Star is Born 
  • Holiday 
  • Adam’s Rib 
  • The Women 
  • Little Women 
  • A Double Life

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