I can’t remember when I first watched the 1944 movie, “Gaslight”, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, but it quickly became one of my favorites to catch on the Turner Classic Movie channel. Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury costar in this second adaptation to be filmed. It was Angela Lansbury’s screen debut at age eighteen. She plays the surly maid in the household.
The story opens as Alice Alquist has been murdered in her London home. The murderer made his escape when interrupted by a young child, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman). Alice Alquist is Paula’s aunt who is a renowned opera singer and who took in Paula to raise after her mother’s death.
Paula is sent to Italy to study opera with the same teacher who made her aunt a star and there she meets Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) and soon falls in love with him and they marry. Gregory soon persuades Paula to return to the home that her aunt has left to her in London. She gives up her voice training and returns to the home where her aunt’s murder had taken place many years earlier. Gregory encourages his wife to store all of her aunt’s belongings in the attic to be locked away with the door blocked.
Soon thereafter, strange occurrences start happening. The gaslights in the house go suddenly dim and then brighten for no apparent reason. Paula hears footsteps overhead in the attic at night. When she reports these things to her husband, he scoffs at her and tells her she’s imagining things. Pictures start disappearing from the walls–Gregory accuses Paula of taking them down and when she denies it; he says she just doesn’t remember doing it. She “loses” a brooch given to her by Gregory. Many odd happenings continue to take place all blamed on Paula’s increasing forgetfulness or figments of her imagination. She starts to doubt herself and becomes ill with worry and anxiety. She is subsequently kept from her friends and from accepting any outside invitations by Gregory’s attempts to “protect” her.
Paula doesn’t know it, but her new husband is her aunt’s killer. He had wooed, married and brought her back to London so he could continue what he had started to do many years prior–find Alice’s fortune of jewels. His plan is to slowly drive Paula mad so he can have her institutionalized. He wants her gone so he can continue his hunting unimpeded. He knows the jewels are there but has looked through all the belongings in the attic night after night and his searches have turned up nothing. Yes, those are his footsteps overhead and it is he who is turning the gas on in the attic thus making the downstairs gas go dim and then bright again as he turns it off. He is behind all the unexplained mysteries.
Self doubt and anxiety is taking its toll on Paula. But by a chance meeting with an inspector at Scotland Yard, played by Joseph Cotten, she allows him to follow up on his hunches with the cold case crime of Alice Alquist and he catches his man. Just as Gregory finds the jewels–that had been sewn into Alice’s gowns–he is arrested. Paula gets her revenge by mocking him as he’s bound to a chair awaiting the police.
This movie took on even more significance to me when I realized that my own husband (now ex) was using some of these same tactics on me. I came to see how he undermined me and led me to doubt myself. My anxiety grew as he used many common abusive methods on me–“only” verbal–though insidious and malicious. I was fortunate that I woke up and got out. This movie became my banner of freedom and symbol of triumph.
I even learned that there is a term called “gaslighting” to mean manipulating and detrimentally influencing others to believe they are losing their minds. Oh, wow!
Musing By Moonlight: Women Escaping a Violent Environment
Monday Morning Writing Prompt: Art Inspiring Art http://liv2write2day.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/monday-morning-writing-prompt-art-inspiring-art/