Wednesday, April 02, 2014


1940, UK, directed by Thorold Dickinson

Gaslight's opening shot must be one of the loveliest in all of cinema, the camera gliding through the air before settling on a house on Pimlico Square -- and yet there's already an undercurrent of alarm, the camera clearly not simply establishing the scene in an attractive part of London but eliminating everything but that one house. The next scene is a swift and shocking contrast, a murder shown in striking detail for the period, and we only rarely leave the house, a theatre of claustrophobia and violence both physical and, especially, mental for the remainder of the running time. It's a film that demands a good deal of attention, not because of any narrative sleight of hand but rather because of the subtle gradations of emotion -- particularly the way in which Anton Walbrook's character suddenly modulates from care to callousness, such that we, like his wife in the film, come to wonder at his motivations. It took me a little while to adjust my expectations; I'd somehow come to expect something much more noir in sensibility, but the slow burn comes to a startling climax and the depth of depravity here lingers long in the mind.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States