Sunday, May 2, 2010

Evil by Gaslight

Gaslight (aka "Angel Street") (1940)
Starrng: Anton Wallbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell, and Cathleen Cordell
Director: Thorold Dickinson
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Abusive husband Paul Mallen (Wallbrook) sets about driving his mentally frail (but wealthy) wife insane after she unknowingly discovers a dark secret he is harboring. Will retired police detective B.G. Rough (Pettingell) uncover enough evidence about Paul's intent and true identity before it is too late to save Mrs. Mallen (Wynyard)?

"Gaslight" is a fabulous thriller set in Victorian London. If the modern day equavilients could have scripts this taught, victims this helpless and undeserving of torment, villains so absolutely sininster and intelligently evil, and camerawork and lighting as elegant and creative as is on display here, I wouldn't constantly be lamenting that the thriller is a dead genre.

The two lead actors in this film give astonishing performances. Paul Mallen has got to be among the most dispicable, evil villains to ever appear on film, and Anton Wallbrook plays him with perfect coldness. Diana Wynyard as the pitiable object of his twisted scheming plays Bella Mallen with just enough confusion and gentleness to make the viewer feel sorry for her but never feel irritated because she is too much of a victim. Instead, Paul Mallen's evil simply becomes that much more evident.

According to the IMDB entry for "Gaslight", when MGM acquired the rights to the film and did a remake in 1944, they attemted to destroy all copies of this original film. Fortunately, they did not succeed, and this very stylish, well-done thriller survives to this day in very good condition. It's one of the many forgotten and obscure cinematic gems included in Mill Creek's 100-movie boxed set, Mystery Classics, and it's one of the reasons many a reasons that set will appeal to lovers of thrillers, crime dramas, and film noir.

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