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Offbeat Blu-ray Review: Gaslight

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Distributor: Warner Archives

Release Date: June 25, 2019

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:53:46

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

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George Cukor’s Gaslight has long drawn comparisons to certain films in Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography and is often mentioned as one of “the best Hitchcock films that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t actually direct.” Of course, this isn’t at all fair to Cukor, but there are a number of factors that tend to encourage such comparison. The most important and interesting of these is the fact that the original play was written by Patrick Hamilton. Readers will recall that Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope was also adapted from a successful stage play written by Hamilton. What’s more, the theme of marital paranoia was touched upon by Hitchcock in Rebecca, Suspicion, and Notorious. Finally, seeing Ingrid Bergman (Spellbound, Notorious, Under Capricorn), Joseph Cotton (Shadow of a Doubt, Under Capricorn), and Dame May Whitty (The Lady Vanishes, Suspicion) in such a thriller is bound to remind viewers of their work for Hitchcock. In fact, a train scene between Bergman’s ‘Paula’ and Whitty’s ‘Miss Thwaites’ is so obviously “Hitchcockian” that it seems unlikely that the similarities aren’t intentional:

Miss Thwaites: Oh, my goodness! Good gracious! It’s so exciting.

Paula: Your book?

Miss Thwaites: Yes. It’s about a girl who marries a man—and what do you think? He’s got six wives buried in the cellar!

Paula: That seems a lot.

Miss Thwaites: Yes, and I’m only on Page 200, so I’m sure there’s still more to come. It’s a wonderful book!

Paula: It sounds a little gruesome.

Miss Thwaites: Yes. I’m afraid I enjoy a good murder now and then. My brother always calls me “Bloodthirsty Bessie.” Have a biscuit, dear.

Paula: Thank you.

Miss Thwaites: Digestive biscuits. Unpleasant name, isn’t it? I always call them “diggy biscuits.” I never travel without them.

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Ingrid Bergman won an Academy Award in the “Best Actress” category for her performance in Gaslight. The film earned a total of seven nominations.

It is also worth noting that Alfred Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn would feature Ingrid Bergman as a character being “gaslighted” by her jealous housekeeper. The film wasn’t one of the director’s more successful efforts, but it seems likely that this fact contributes to people’s tendency to draw parallels between Cukor’s work on Gaslight and Hitchcock’s work in general.

In the end, however, it seems inappropriate to put too much emphasis on any of these points. George Cukor’s great work on the film should not be overshadowed by comparisons to a director who had absolutely nothing to do with the production. Instead, we should celebrate the existence of a film that is good enough to stand amongst Hitchcock’s work as a classic of the genre.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Archives houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring a slightly altered version of the film’s original one sheet design. The cast credits are much smaller and are arranged in a more traditional manner that takes up less space, and the title has been moved so that it is located directly under these names. Whether these changes make for a stronger composition is a matter of taste, but it is nice to see that the original artwork was at least used here.

Gaslight - One Sheet

The disc’s menu features this same image with accompaniment from the film’s score and is both attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This exquisite transfer is sourced from a recent 4K scan of the film (which must have been in excellent condition). It is stunningly representative of the film’s original elements and features consistently impressive fine detail for a film of this vintage. An extremely healthy layer of grain lends the image a filmic texture without ever becoming unwieldy or problematic. Contrast is well handled here with strong blacks and healthy whites. The high bitrate ensures that compression issues are never a problem. Age related damage is minimal and never distracting. There really aren’t any problems to discuss here. Everything looks terrific.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track showcases the film’s original mono mix rather admirably. All elements are well prioritized and probably sound as good as they ever have. Dialogue is consistently clear, music is given more room to breathe than in previous DVD editions of the film, dynamic range is much better than one might expect, age related anomalies such as hiss and hum are never an issue, and there aren’t any noticeable synch problems. Audiophiles should be reasonably pleased.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Gaslight: The Original 1940 British Version — (01:23:57)

Gaslight 1940

Upon purchasing the re-make rights to this film, MGM had included a clause in their contract which demanded that all existing prints of this film be destroyed. They even tried to destroy the negative. Luckily, they didn’t succeed.

This earlier adaptation of Hamilton’s play was directed by Thorold Dickinson and stars Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook as the two principals (named ‘Bella’ and ‘Paul’ in this version). In many ways, this almost feels like a reader’s digest version of the story. The husband is very obviously characterized as a brute here, and his “Gaslighting” is already well underway by the time we are given a proper scene between them. It is a bit choppy compared to the more fluid progression of Cukor’s film version, but there are those who prefer this version to the re-make. These individuals will cite a darker and more suspenseful tone, but others are just as likely to note the script’s less subtle characterizations and performances that are nearly void of all nuance.

Either way, it is very nice to have this British adaptation included here as it is fun comparing the two films. It certainly adds enormously to the value of this disc. Unfortunately, this particular image transfer is presented in standard definition with 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. C’est la vie.

Reflections on Gaslight — (13:50)

Cinephiles will also be thrilled with the inclusion of this short “featurette” as it manages to pack some very interesting information into its short duration. Pia Lindstrom hosts, provides a bit of production history, and tells a few second-hand anecdotes. Angela Lansbury also appears to share her memories of the production. This is far from a comprehensive examination of the film’s production, but it certainly doesn’t waste the viewer’s time.

Oscars for Movie Stars — (01:32)

This newsreel footage from the 17th Annual Academy Awards ceremony includes contextual narration by John B. Kennedy as Gary Cooper presents the award for “Best Actor” to Bing Crosby, Jennifer Jones presents the “Best Actress” award to Ingrid Bergman, and Margaret O’Brien receives the Academy’s special juvenile award. The ‘thank you’ speeches were short and gracious in those days. Recent winners could watch this and take a few notes.

Theatrical Trailer — (01:53)

It’s nice to see how Gaslight was sold to audiences at the time. One wishes that all Blu-rays would include a film’s original theatrical trailer (or trailers).

Gaslight: Lux Radio Theater Broadcast — (59:40)

This Lux Radio Theater adaptation was originally broadcast to radio audiences on April 29, 1946 and features Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer in the same roles that they had brought to the screen only a few years earlier. The entire program is presented here—including commercials and scripted interviews with Bergman and Boyer.

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Final Words:

Gaslight is an engrossing thriller with an incredibly strong performance by Ingrid Bergman, and this Blu-ray from Warner Archives offers a terrific transfer that bests all previous home video releases.

Review by: Devon Powell

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One response to “Offbeat Blu-ray Review: Gaslight

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