Genre: Crime, Film-Noir
Director: George Cukor
John Van Druten
John L. Balderston
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Dame May Whitty
What an intense drama about psychological abuse, and implants the virulent dual-murders, one from the past and another is ongoing, one is fulfilled and the other is up in the air, George Cukor (from MY FAIR LADY 1964, A STAR IS BORN 1954 and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY 1940) blindsided me with his own creation of film noir, and conducts Boyer and Bergman’s career-best performances.
An unsolved crime at the beginning, the film drops from a whodunit detective story rather early, after the a short spell of foreign sojourn (Lake Como, where else would be more romantic?), the newly-weds returns to London, for Paula (Bergman), the scar dooms to be lifted open and the bare wound is even more deleterious than she could ever imagine. Adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s play “ANGEL STREET”, the film predominantly is a two-hander between Paula and Gregory (Boyer), and about how Gregory punctiliously and effectively manipulates and impairs Paula’s mental state, he ensnares Paulo into a self-doubt of her sanity (the very first outing in London is to visit the torture chamber, no wonder all the Museums of Torture are prevailing in the touristic attractions here in Europe), insulating her from meeting other people, trapped her in the mansion and slowly yet mercilessly infuses all the hallucinogenic chicanery to further damage her flimsy nerve, which includes the titular gaslight and it also serves as a signpost of his surreptitious whereabouts every night.
Boyer is quite extraordinary in expressing venom under his high-and-mighty politeness, frowning and pouting, his devilish complexion enlivens the film’s watchability even at its corniest part, a bestial man indeed, but a tour-de-force exemplar of his kind. Bergman, although is the hapless victim who is unwittingly sleeping with the enemy, very anti-femme-fatale indeed, manages to deliver a visceral transition of Paula’s trauma, which certainly out of her usual graceful and elegant comfort zone, and albeit her Nordic height, it is such a stretch for her to reveal her female vulnerability without any reservation. She got her first Oscar for the film, I’m now wavering in choosing my pick between her and Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s noir paradigm DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).
A third-billed Joseph Cotten is the cardboard detective eventually will be the hero, and Dame May Whitty, the garrulous busybody, appears sporadically in case she overstays her welcome. The film is also Angela Lansbury’s film debut, at the age of 17 during the shoot, the young flighty maid might only be a pawn in the plot, but a rather singular boldness and an Oscar nomination presages her reverend orbit as one of the most versatile character-actress in the Hollywood history.
Overall, the film is a highly-recommendable piece of psychological study, shot in minimal bleakness (even the gala concert is intentionally shortened) with solemn and choppy original score from Bronislau Kaper. From a modern-day POV, one might find Paula is a stereotyped exploitation about how women usually are portrayed in the yesteryear, which seems out of topicality now (not domestic violence, just the showcase of female’s utter dependence and extreme delicacy), so, it might undermine the reception from the younger generation, but anyway, at least, a big bravo to Bergman and Boyer.