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B&W. 1944. Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten; dir. George Cukor. 114 min. Beta, VHS. MGMIUA.
From the opening "I don't know much about you, but I love you" to the closing "I hate you," Gaslight is a predictable, entertaining Grand Guignol melodrama which confronts not-so-weighty questions:
Is newlywed Ingrid Bergman crazy? Or is husband Charles Boyer trying to make her that way?
The story is adapted from a 1930s stage play by Patrick Hamilton and often betrays its "well-made play" origins – the whole enterprise is stagebound and talky. But it is saved by performances and atmosphere, from Bergman's sexy, bewildered innocent and Boyer's nice-guy villain to Dame May Whitty's talkative busybody and Angela Lansbury's sultry maid. The most curious casting finds American Joseph Cotten as a relentless Scotland Yard inspector; in the original play (and in the 1939 British film version), the role was played by an older man, but MGM hoped to increase the movie's matinee value by hinting at a romance between Cotten and Bergman.
Gaslight is convoluted and overlong in the best penny-dreadful tradition and includes foggy streets, creepy sounds in a boarded-up room, and dark looks from the mysterious Boyer. The earlier British version of 1939 (reportedly destroyed by Metro but still extant) is better, but audiences ate this one up and Bergman earned the first of three Academy Awards for her breathless part. If the tale ultimately lacks emotional punch, it's not because she doesn't try. And she is lovely to look at.
The VHS transfer is also lovely, in crisp black & white, and the sounds of hansom cabs and screams in the night are all too audible.
Color. 1980. Joseph Bottoms, Kathleen Beller, R.H. Thompson, Margaret Dragu; dir. Claude Jutra. 90 min. VCL/Media
This Canadian film of Margaret Atwood's novel of a woman searching for her spiritual identity (and missing father) in the wilderness is a confused hodgepodge of genres; nature film, mystery story, feminist adventure. The movie is well-intentioned and Atwood does have something to say, but you wouldn't know it from this effort. It is crippled by stereotyped characters, bad performances, and dialogue that is either mundane or ridiculously upfront ("I'm trying to face up to myself. It's always what you want when you want it") Apart from some intense moments – a Deliverance-style confrontation with two hunters and a near-rape scene – Surfacing is a mess.
The Evil that Men Do
Color. 1984. Charles Bronson, dir. J. Lee Thompson. 91 min. Beta, RCA/Columbia.
Bronson fans will enjoy this no-holds-barred violence feast, a kind of Death Wish International. The monosyllabic Bronson takes on a South American killer known as Le Doctor who likes to use electricity and nails (among other things) to mutilate his victims. Bronson has the moral high ground since every one of his foes is some kind of deviant, from wife-swapper and lesbian to simple sadist. He kills so efficiently, however, that the only real suspense occurs when he has to deliver a line. The transfer is excellent, with rich color – but you do get tired of so much red after a while.