Gregory wrote:I know the Dickinson has its devotees, but in my opinion the Cukor is much superior.
jsteffe wrote:I think Anton Walbrook's sublime menace in the Dickinson version is reason enough to pay the extra dough for Warner's O.P. flipper edition. Watching him work outside of Powell and Ophuls only underscores to me that he is one of the all-time great film actors. Charles Boyer is also a fine actor and he offers a different--and convincing--take on the same role, but to me Walbrook really embodies the gritty spirit of the play from what I remember reading it years ago.
Lubitsch, did you mean 'not necessarily with Wynyard in the original film'? If so, I can sort of understand where you're coming from. Ingrid Bergman is pretty much my favourite actress, and she fully deserved her Oscar for this performance: her breakdown during the piano recital is genuinely hard to watch, and overall she's certainly a better actress than Wynyard. On most days I would also prefer Boyer's quiet, reptilian menace to Walbrook's mad-haired, mad-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth psycho, though in some ways the latter's performance is more fun - I love it when Bella swears on the Bible and he lunges in towards her, growling, 'Then you are mad - and you'll get worse until you die! Raving in an asylum!' (Compare Boyer's more matter-of-fact, but equally chilling, delivery of the line about Paula's mother: 'Eventually she died in an asylum with no brain at all.')lubitsch wrote:I'm happy to see that there's a split opinion on Gaslight as I wrote in a just finished article though I had ended it mentioning that the US DVD has both versions allowing a comparison. Looks loke I'll have to rewrite it ... I'd say the British version is a cruel comedy, while the US version is more of a conventional star vehicle (it's MGM and Cukor, so what else could it be?), you sympathize with Bergman but necessarily with Wynyard in the original film. I don't think there's an easy ranking to be done as e.g. with Jekyll and Hyde the other "let's buy the film and bury it while we remake it" film which is clearly inferior to the original version.
In fact, I really like Cukor's film. I saw it before the Dickinson version, and on a first viewing there seemed to be no contest between them: the Cukor, in addition to the great acting, is longer, much more lush, more leisurely, and (with the exception of the Walbrook/Boyer contrast) altogether less restrained. Lubitsch is right that it's a star vehicle, and it lets you wallow in the painful emotions on display. Pauline Kael is quoted on the DVD sleeve as calling it 'good scary fun', which it is.
But that's pretty much all it is. I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but obviously some of the additions - especially the presence of Joseph Cotten and Dame May Whitty (with her 'diggy biscuits') - severely compromise the depth of the film's engagement with its horrifying subject matter. Dickinson's film doesn't limit the psychological damage in the same way, and the beautifully restrained ending leaves you with a sense of loss and anxiety as well as hope.
I've seen Cukor's film maybe five or six times, and don't especially care to watch it again. It's the kind of good scary fun you can get a few thrills out of, but ultimately feels quite shallow. The Dickinson film, on the other hand, I must have seen more than ten times, and it keeps getting better. One thing I've realised, contrary to the way lubitsch sees it, is that the original is actually far more moving than the remake. However hard Bergman tries, there is nothing in her performance quite as devastating as the scene where Wynyard sits in front of her mirror, talking in a monotone about a woman she once heard of who ended up in an asylum. Her sympathetic maid, on the verge of tears, says, 'If there's anything I can do, ma'am.' She replies, 'No. There isn't anything anybody can do.' And then she's alone in the room, watching the lights dim, hearing the footsteps upstairs, and she tries to drown them out with a music box in which a little ballerina dances under a glass screen - we see Wynyard reflected in the glass, clutching her head, nodding in time to the footsteps, losing her mind, until she breaks down and throws herself on the bed. If Wynyard is a slightly weaker actress than Bergman, that oddly makes her performance more touching here - Bergman is always, on some level, the great star, suffering exquisitely in a lovely Joseph Ruttenberg composition. Wynyard is more like an ordinary woman, visibly going mad before our eyes.
I'm ashamed to say I haven't read the play, though I keep meaning to buy a copy, but the reason this story is so powerful and resonant is that, while it may seem an unlikely premise in some respects, it's actually a brilliant meditation on the damage people can do to each other. Anyone who's ever been in a serious relationship, or just has a family, should have some inkling of the real dangers that come with that territory: the levels of trust and dependence, the almost inevitable power imbalance, and perhaps most of all the danger of an insulated private life that no one else gets to see. Gaslight is just an extreme representation of abuses that go on in every relationship. Never mind Suspicion or Rosemary's Baby - once you realise how people gaslight each other to cover their own insecurities, perversions and outright insanities, the real greatness of Dickinson's film becomes apparent.
Lubitsch calls it a cruel comedy, and maybe he's thinking of that brilliant scene where Wynyard looks out of a window at the Punch and Judy show, while her real husband really abuses her in the privacy of their plush living room. A comedy is just what this is for Walbrook's character - this is where the actor's impish sense of humour gives him the upper hand over Boyer - but that only makes the tragedy of what is happening to Wynyard all the more painful. Look at the moment when Pettingell first mentions the name 'Louis Bauer' to her, and she jumps up in terror, thinking this man must be a figment of her imagination or a trap laid by her husband; there's no way this spectacle of a (perhaps irreparably) damaged woman was meant to be received as a comedy. The Cukor film doesn't quite measure up in this respect.
Maybe that's all rather subjective on my part, but Dickinson's film is also a much, much better piece of film-making. It starts out with that beautifully conceived title sequence, with the gaslight flaring up and then the slightly charred, aged paper scrolling down: a lot of the film has that 'gaslit' look to it, with a sort of blurry darkness around the edges (much like the effect in the terrifying flashback sequence in The Queen of Spades). The opening murder sequence is particularly good, featuring a nasty moment of violence that sets the ghoulish tone for the rest of the film. Cukor's film is a good- but fake-looking evocation of Victorian England; the atmosphere and sense of period in Dickinson's film are peerless. I especially love the music hall sequence, with the gaslit footlights, the leering impresario introducing the Can-Can dancers, and the flamboyant cinematography. And much as I always miss Angela Lansbury as the maid, the Nancy in this version has some lovely moments, like when she says to Walbrook, 'Life's gonna be one long 'oliday for you from now on...' And Richard Addinsell's score mixes gentility with dread to miraculous effect. And the pacing of the film is so much more economical and efficient than the Cukor version...
The whole film is a gift that keeps giving - however underwhelming it may seem at first, trust me, to know it is to love it. Definitely my favourite British film.
Of Dickinson's '40s work I've only seen this, The Next of Kin (an uneven but often brilliant and seriously paranoid war film, a good companion piece to Went the Day Well?) and The Queen of Spades, which I agree is essential viewing, especially for a couple of very creepy horror sequences, Anton Walbrook again, and most of all Edith Evans, who was sixty at the time but looks about 112. She manages to be funny, scary and tragic all at once. Seeing her act Walbrook off the screen just by staring at him is a treat.
I've heard The Prime Minister is quite dull, but Men of Two Worlds sounds like it must be, at the very least, a fascinating disaster. Has anyone seen them? I hoped to get around to writing up posts on The High Command and The Arsenal Stadium Mystery for the '30s list, but never found the time. It isn't too surprising that they didn't get any votes, but they certainly hint at the more flamboyant greatness of Dickinson's later films. I'll definitely be raving about Secret People when the '50s list comes around...