DOM: Gaslight (Dickinson, UK, 1940)

If I could dedicate this list to one person, it would be Leslie Halliwell, first of all he was from Bolton and secondly he wrote about film with more passion than anyone I have ever read, which makes his THE definitive film guide.

Unfortunately he died in 1989 only just 12 years after the first film guide had been published, John Walker took over and did a not bad job on it, then some other bloke about four years ago and destroyed it and it has only been published once since.

However, when I was becoming a budding film buff, I relied upon his grading (0 to 4 stars), it became my mission to see all these four star films and although his love was “The Golden Age” of Hollywood, the book produced some films such as “Letter From An Unknown Woman”, “Bad Day At Black Rock”, “Love Me Tonight” and “Gaslight” which I might not have watched had they not been given the ultimate 4 star grading.

I waited a long time to catch up with “Gaslight” – 8 years after my quest began and this again is a film not available on DVD and was never available on VHS – it is worth the wait. It feels like a film from another age, like one of those classic French films of the 30s from Renoir or Carne, it doesn’t really feel like a British film released during the war. It is based on Patrick Hamilton’s play of the same name and contains career best performances from Diana Wynard as Bella ( who died at 58 and was married to Carol Reed) who is being sent out of her mind and  Anton Walbrook (dare I say this is a better performance than “The Red Shoes” or “The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp”?).  It repays repeated viewings, unlike the George Cukor 1944 MGM re-make. In fact, MGM tried to have the print destroyed when theirs opened, fortunately it survived. I saw this on stage a couple of years ago with Rosamund Pike as Bella at the Old Vic and it was good, but nowhere near as effective as this masterpiece.

It was recently shown on Channel Four and Radio Times gave it an awful review, saying it was merely a curio and worth checking out, but the 1944 version was the definitive version. That is why I always will rely on Halliwell, he knew what he was talking about and if I would have listened to Radio Times, would have missed this classic. We can only hope that budding film buffs today pick up Halliwell (the original, not the remake!). Also check out his brilliant essay on the film in “Halliwell’s Hundred” – if you can find a copy!

Dickinson only once came close to matching the brilliance here, in 1948’s “Queen Of Spades” (finally released on DVD ), also starring Anton Walbrook.

UK Release 31st August 1940

DF Viewing 31st August 1998 BBC-2

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