review for Gaslight on AllMovie

Gaslight (1940)
by Bruce Eder review

Thorold Dickinson's Gaslight was one of the most acclaimed thrillers of the 1930's, as finely scripted, acted, and directed as any mystery-drama of its era, and exquisitely nuanced. The movie and its basic plot were good enough to attract the attention of MGM, which not only bought the rights for their 1944 remake with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, directed by George Cukor, but suppressed the original. [indeed, for many years Dickinson's movie wasn't even officially in existence, all known prints and negatives reportedly having been destroyed by MGM. After 1940, it was known to have been screened once in the early 1950's in New York City, and then wasn't heard from again until after Ted Turner took over the studio's library and began a comprehensive vault search.] The movie must, inevitably, be compared with the Cukor's remake, and Dickinson's version stands up well -- it isn't as handsome or opulent, but it is as finely nuanced as Cukor's is overblown and over-produced. Diana Wynyard is a convincing picture of vulnerability as the nefarious plan by her murder-minded spouse Anton Walbrook proceeds, by turns panicked and doubting. The supporting players, from Frank Pettingill on down, are also a study in minimalism, their work seemingly motivated (correctly) by the notion of less being more. Dickinson doesn't waste time telling his story, but he allows his actors the intimate focus that allows their work -- rather than the sets and costumes -- to fill the screen and the viewer's attention. This is precisely the sort of drama that Alfred Hitchcock sought to create (with less success) in Under Capricorn, and to some extent also anticipates his Rebecca, done a year after Gaslight. The movie was also distributed for a time before its 50-year disappearance under the titles Angel Street and Murder In Thornton Square.