Gaslight: Luscious and Lethal English Dessert Recipes

Year Released: 1944
Directed by: George Cukor
Starring: Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, Angela Lansbury
(Not Rated-114 min.)
Mystery and Suspense, Drama


Gaslight: To manipulate someone psychologically such that they question their own sanity, particularly by leading them to doubt their own experiences or perceptions of reality.

Here is the 1944 classic that spawned the term.

Years after her aunt was murdered in her home, a young woman moves back into the house with her new husband. However, he has a secret that he will do anything to protect, even if it means driving his wife insane. –IMBd

It is amazing how topical this tale is, even though it was filmed nearly three quarters of a century ago.  Sure, it is a little staged and melodramatic, but the characters and their psychology are right on.  Charles Boyer as the cruelly manipulative husband fits the patterns of abuse we recognize today, although his abuse is primarily mental, which in its way, seems even more cruel than mere physical abuse.  Paula has no outward bruises or broken bones, but she is shattered within by his staged deceptions, such as giving her special presents only to hide them and fault her for their loss.

Indeed, as critic Emanuel Levy notes, Gaslight is only one of several film noir features of the forties that all cry out, “Don’t trust your husband.”  Such classics as Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), continuing with Gaslight and Jane Eyre (both 1944), as well as Notorious and The Spiral Staircase (both 1946), and finally Sorry Wrong Number and Sleep, My Love (both 1948).

All of these films use the noir visual vocabulary and share the same premise and narrative structure: The life of a rich, sheltered woman is threatened by an older, deranged man, often her husband. In all of them, the house, usually a symbol of sheltered security in Hollywood movies, becomes a trap of terror.–Emanuel Levy

Bergman won an Oscar for her portrayal of Paula, where she conveys so much emotion with just the tilt of her head, the slump of her shoulders, or her soulful eyes.  But as TV Guide notes,

Boyer nearly steals the picture, aided and abetted by the stunning debut of Angela Lansbury as a hardbitten servant--only 18, she grabbed the role and chewed it to bits. –TV Guide

And I can guarantee that Lovers of “Murder She Wrote” will adore Lansbury in this cheeky role.

Also demonstrating his range as an actor is the inimitable Joseph Cotten, here a handsome and resolute Scotland Yard Detective and the perfect foil to the continental Boyer, even if his English accent is less than perfect.  And having seen Cotten as the smiling villain in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt a year earlier, and later (1949) as the dundering hack writer in what – in my opinion – is Orson Wells’ real masterpiece, The Third Man, one cannot help but be impressed. Cotten’s Holly Martin in the Welles film is is quintessentially American - doggedly loyal, belligerently optimistic, and naively romantic in his blundering way.

Even if you have already seen this fine film, it is time to watch it again and remember when character, not action, dominated the screens.

Team up this London classic with one of Different Drummer’s luscious English desserts, such as English Trifle with Fresh Raspberries and Sherry Drizzle, or Jammed Lemon Curd Tarts, featured in her Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook. 

Also a great Christmas gift idea, I might add.

–Kathy Borich

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