Gaslight: Box-office duel

[Screenshot][Screenshot]I had only actually anticipated watching one film, but I got two for the price of one: both versions of Gaslight were on a single DVD. They’re both based on the same stageplay (which, confusingly enough, is not called Gaslight, but Angel Street), which means they have a lot in common, but they’re hardly scene-for-scene identical. I’m unlear on why MGM remade a movie a scant four years after the origin al, but so they did. Apparently the issue of which production is superior is a touchy one, and leads to outbreaks of violence on the streets of this nation’s more cinephilic cities. So I guess I’d best tread lightly in my comparison.

The 1940 version is significantly shorter, in large part because it starts further into the story. This means it doesn’t explain the question of how the leading lady ended up married to this creep, but in fairness, the ’44 production doesn’t exactly illuminate that issue either. In terms of plot-pacing and characterization, the ’44 recreation is generally better: Anton Walbrook’s Mallen is unrelentingly nasty, which isn’t terribly credible: his character doesn’t seem like one that would actually convince his wife of anything, whereas Charles Boyer’s Anton (maybe a dig at the original actor?) is sly, charming, and hides his viciousness effectively. The supporting cast in the ’44 version is also stronger for the most part: Ingrid Bergman as Paula is believably sane but cowed, with shades of Joan Fontaine’s Mrs. deWinter, while the mostly forgettable actress in the 1940 film just seems weak. The one role I think is better in the 1940 version is that of the leading-lady’s savior: Joseph Cotten, who I usually like, did a respectable but not superlative job, while Frank Pettingell breathed a droll humor into his role completely absent in Cotten’s businesslike detective.

So, on most points, the ’44 movie wins in my estimation: better cast, better pacing, and slightly better cinematography. In fairness, I must confess the ’44 movie had a more effective score. They’re both good, though, so I wouldn’t pass up a chance to watch either again. But probably not both in series, althoguh it was interesting to do so once. They’re quite dissimilar for films with essentially the same plot and production.

See also: 1940 IMDB, 1944 IMDB, 1940 Wikipedia, 1944 Wikipedia.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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