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Film / Gaslight

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"If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!"
Paula Alquist denouncing her husband

Based on a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton, Gaslight is a 1944 Psychological Thriller directed by George Cukor and staring Ingrid Bergman in her first Oscar-winning performance.

She plays Paula, a young girl who lived with her aunt, a famous opera singer. One day, the aunt is suddenly murdered and robbed by the mysterious Sergius Bauer, leaving Paula alone. After studying abroad for the ten years since the incident, she returns to England with a new husband, Gregory (Charles Boyer). But shortly afterwards, Gregory suddenly starts going out of his way to Mind Rape Paula.

Can Paula find out the reason for her husband's cruelty? Can a sympathetic Scotland Yard officer (Joseph Cotten) save the day?

A very-young Angela Lansbury made her film debut as the quirky maid Nancy; the performance won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film is notable for coining the term Gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse of which the film's plot is an example.


This movie provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Alice Alquist.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Paula being confronted by Gregory in the film's finale, while Brian is not around to help her.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing / Devil in Plain Sight: Gregory. Paula is a Horrible Judge of Character to not notice it.
  • Bound and Gagged: Gregory, after Brian and the constable overpower him.
  • Catch-Phrase: Miss Thwaites' "Well!"
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • One of Paula's aunt's stage gloves, given to an unnamed admirer who turns out to have been Cameron as a boy.
    • The costume Alice Alquist is wearing in her portrait is where she hid the jewels.
    • It's established early on that Elizabeth the maid is a bit deaf. As such she can't hear the noises of Gregory moving around in the attic.
  • Death by Childbirth: Paula's mother died when she was born, though Gregory later twists the story to serve his agenda.
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  • Decomposite Character: The detective from the original play is split into two characters, Brian and Ms. Thwaites.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Paula charging Gregory when latter is Bound and Gagged.
  • Domestic Abuse: One of the most iconic examples in fiction, as Gregory bullies, isolates, and manipulates Paula to the point of madness.
  • Driven to Madness: Gregory pulls no punches in order to convince Paula she's going mad.
  • Droste Image: Gregory holding Alice Alquist's costume in front of a painting of the singer wearing said costume.
  • A Foggy Day in London Town: The film uses this as Ominous Fog to establish mood, like when Paula is being led away from the house after her aunt has been murdered, or later, when her evil husband Gregory is skulking through the streets and alleyways.
  • Foreshadowing: When Paula and Gregory are kissing after he's surprised her with a date to the theatre, his hands are briefly around her neck. Then you remember that her aunt Alice was strangled.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Invoked by Gregory to push his agenda. He starts talking about marriage already after two weeks of knowing Paula.
  • French Jerk: In the 1944 film, the villainous Gregory is played by Charles Boyer, who uses his natural accent. Possibly subverted, as Gregory's real name is Sergis Bauer, and is apparently from Prague, so it could be an affectation.
  • Gaslighting: Trope Maker and Trope Namer.
  • Gun Struggle: Between Gregory and Brian. Nobody gets harmed though.
  • Haunted House Historian: The neighbor is extremely knowledgeable about the murder mystery at the house.
  • He Knows Too Much: Gregory tries to make Paula believe she is an Unreliable Narrator, in order to make her deny she ever saw that letter which tied him to the murder case.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The three supporting female characters. There's Nancy (maiden), Elizabeth (matron) and Miss Thwaites (crone).
  • Hell Is That Noise: The noise from the attic is driving Paula crazy.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: How Alice hid the jewels that the tsar gave her, the ones Gregory is hunting for—on the costume she wore to the opera, amidst all the fake jewelery she wore for her performance.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: As the page quote proudly demonstrates, Paula proudly turns Gregory's scheme to drive her to madness back on him.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Paula is a manipulated victim, carrying the Idiot Ball of taking Gregory for a well-meaning husband.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Done the other way around. Paula has her hair down at the beginning of the film, as befits a young unmarried lady, but wears it up as Gregory drives her mad.
  • MacGuffin: Aunt Alice's jewels - the reason she was murdered.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The fact that one of the classic forms of psychological manipulation is named after this film should underline what a master Gregory is at being one. This is a man who sought out his victim and married her only so he could get access to her house and find some jewels.
  • Maybe Ever After: At the end, Brian the detective tells Paula that he'll come by later and help her get past her trauma.
  • Mind Rape: Gregory's mind games that he uses to convince Paula she's going insane.
  • Mood-Swinger: Gregory can go from barely contained fury to cooing affection in an instant, and then again to terrible coldness. It's probably deliberate, to keep Paula off-balance, but Gregory doesn't really seem like Mister Stability himself.
  • Mr. Exposition: The neighbor being a Haunted House Historian and the police captain dropping Info Dumps about the missing jewels.
  • Never My Fault: Gregory never for a moment lets Paula entertain the idea that he may be mistaken; she must be mad. At the end, Gregory insists that he and Paula could have been happy together were it not for her aunt's jewels. This is a man who has married a woman explicitly to drive her insane so she'd be committed, and murdered her aunt for the aforementioned jewels. Paula's not impressed.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Miss Thwaites is a great lover of murder mysteries - nicknamed 'Bloody Bessie' by her friends. She's positively giddy that she lives on the same street a murder was committed.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Miss Thwaites.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Joseph Cotten using his own courtly Virginia accent to play a Scotland Yard detective.
  • Ominous Fog: Lots of it around the neighborhood as Paula is led away from the house after her aunt's murder, and lots more later, when Gregory is skulking through the alleys.
  • One-Liner, Name... One-Liner: Brian to the cop: "I don't know, Williams. I don't know."
  • Parental Abandonment: Paula's mother suffered Death by Childbirth and she never met her Disappeared Dad, so she grew up with her aunt, the famous singer Alice Alquist.
  • Police are Useless:
    • Played straight with General Huddleston who tries hard to keep the lid on the murder case.
    • Averted with Constable Williams who helps Brian solve the case and also later when both overpower Gregory.
  • Posthumous Character: Alice Alquist, opera singer, lover to a tsar, owner of valuable jewels that Sergis Bauer is determined to find.
  • Really Gets Around: Nancy the slutty maid, portrayed as explicitly as possible in 1944.
  • Red Herring: It's sometimes implied that Nancy could be in on Gregory's plan, but she turns out to be innocent.
  • The Remake: This was the second film adaptation of the play; the first was a British film made in 1940. MGM tried to buy and burn up all the negatives of the 1940 version in order to avoid any competition with its film. They failed, and the earlier version survives today (it even wound up as an extra on the DVD).
  • Servile Snarker: Nancy.
  • Sleeping Single: Paula and Gregory have separate rooms—of course, given Gregory's ulterior motives, this makes sense.
  • Tap on the Head: How Gregory is ultimately subdued in the 1940 version.
  • Terrible Ticking: One of Gregory's tricks on Paula.
  • Victorian London: The film takes place mostly in London (though it does begin in Italy).
  • You Can Hear That, Right?: Paula asking the cook to confirm the noises coming from the attic. Too bad, latter is hearing-impaired.


Example of: