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.

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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)

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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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Offbeat Blu-ray Review: Wait Until Dark

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Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: January 24, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:47:41

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 35.00 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released in various DVD editions.

title

“On Broadway a couple of seasons ago, Wait Until Dark seemed like a wrong number for playwright Frederick Knott, who once dialed ‘M’ for murder. The thriller’s screen incarnation gives him a chance to call again. This time he gets through—with a better scenario, set, and cast.” –Time (Cinema: The Return of the Helpless Girl, November 03, 1967)

It probably wasn’t terribly surprising for Time magazine readers to read an immediate reference to Dial M for Murder in the opening paragraph of their review for Wait Until Dark. Most viewers were probably already drawing comparisons to the earlier film. Like Charade before it, Wait Until Dark is often cited as one of “the best Hitchcock films that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t actually direct.” However, the connection between Alfred Hitchcock and Wait Until Dark seems less tenuous due to his collaboration with Frederick Knott on the screenplay adaptation of Dial ‘M’ for Murderwhich had already enjoyed immense stage success by the time our favorite director had gotten ahold of the property.

1966-playbill

This is a 1966 Playbill for the stage production of Wait Until Dark.

Wait Until Dark enjoyed similar success when it opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on February 2, 1966. Lee Remick’s portrayal of Susy Hendrix earned her a Tony Award nomination and after eleven months and 374 performances, the play had generated a solid reputation and had become a hot Hollywood property. Fortunately, Seven Arts had bought the film rights shortly after its Broadway opening, and Mel Ferrer had begun putting together a production package that would include Audrey Hepburn in the starring role. (It has been suggested that the project may have been a last-ditch effort to save their troubled marriage.)

Julie Herrod and Audrey Hepburn

Julie Herrod had previously portrayed Gloria in the original Broadway production of Wait Until Dark.

The resulting film was an extremely diverting experience which contained a few stellar performances (especially by Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin) and an incredibly suspenseful final act. However, if the film has a Hitchcockian veneer, it is largely the result of Knott’s skillful use of the same genre tropes that made Dial ‘M’ for Murder such a success. A few of Terence Young’s directorial flourishes could have been cribbed from Hitchcock, but they certainly weren’t given the same dexterous execution.

For example, Young makes decent use of the “caged character” shot that features in so many of Hitchcock’s films, but instead of allowing the audience to process the shot on a subconscious level, he insists on driving it home by having Audrey Hepburn grab the rails of her stairway in a moment of emotional desperation. This moment in the film is certainly effective, but it isn’t nearly as seamless or as graceful as Hitchcock’s approach.

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When this shot appears in a Hitchcock film, the characters in question do not resort to such histrionics—and they certainly don’t interact with their cage!  They simply feel trapped, and the image reflects the character’s emotion. In fact, one might say that the image renders such histrionics as completely unnecessary.

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These screenshots from The 39 Steps, Shadow of a Doubt, and The Wrong Man are only a few examples of many “caged character” shots in the Hitchcock canon.

This isn’t to suggest that Wait Until Dark isn’t a terrific film. One simply feels that critics often describe certain directorial flourishes as “Hitchcockian” without really taking the time to understand the differences in technique or execution. This is unfortunate, because a film should really be considered on its own terms and enjoyed for its own merits.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork. It is a better than average design that should please most fans.

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The menu utilizes this same artwork and are easy to navigate. However, the unusual absence of chapter menus might bother some viewers.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Warner Archives continues their reputation for impressive Blu-ray transfers with this incredible new Blu-ray release. To say that this is an improvement over the previous DVD releases is an understatement. Detail and clarity are both vastly improved and look great here, and grain is surprisingly well managed. Colors seem to reflect the filmmaker’s original intentions as well, and they seem more natural here than they did on previous releases of the film.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The sound is also improved upon here and sounds better than the heavily compressed tracks available on the DVD releases. The English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio track might be less dynamic than some of the more robust mixes in recent years, but this is a great transfer of the original mono mix and music, sound effects, and dialogue are all rendered with incredible fidelity.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

A Look in the Dark: The Making of Wait Until Dark – (08:40)

To call this short featurette a “making of” retrospective is actually rather misleading. It would be more appropriate to label the program as an appreciation. Alan Arkin and Mel Ferrer are on hand to reminisce about the film’s production, but their memories aren’t terribly vivid and never really penetrate past such surface level topics as Arkin’s approach to portraying Roat, Hepburn’s wonderful talent, and the film’s positive reception upon its release. It never becomes tedious or boring, and there are a few interesting revelations here that make it a welcome addition to the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:36)

It was interesting to see how the film was sold to the public upon its release, although this particular trailer is rather straightforward and is constructed from footage of the film’s climax with the following voiceover narration:

“Audrey Hepburn. The role you’re going to remember whenever you’re alone.”

Warning Trailer – (01:08)

More interesting is this “warning trailer” that is essentially an audience “teaser.” There is less actual footage used here. We merely see provocative images that are followed by a textual scroll (complete with voiceover).

Over the brief introductory footage, we hear a slightly different take on the narration used for the main trailer:

“Audrey Hepburn. The role you’re going to remember whenever you are alone.”

This is followed by the aforementioned textual scroll that makes the following announcement:

 “During the last eight minutes of this picture the theatre will be darkened to the legal limit, to heighten the terror of the breathtaking climax which takes place in nearly total darkness on the screen. If there are sections where smoking is permitted, those patrons are respectfully requested not to jar the effect by lighting up during this sequence. And of course, no one will be seated at this time.”

It is an interesting glimpse at the film’s infamous marketing campaign (which has been compared to the infamous marketing campaign used for Psycho).

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Final Words:

Wait Until Dark is essential viewing for those who enjoy suspense yarns, classic cinema, or Audrey Hepburn, and this solid Blu-ray transfer from Warner Archives is the best way to enjoy the film in one’s home environment.

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Review by: Devon Powell