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Tuesday, May 11, 2010


George Cukor’s reputation as an actor’s director of tasteful literary adaptions downplays the strong visual flair he kept in reserve. In this grand psychological thriller, the one about the young wife whose husband is trying to drive her mad (‘gaslight’ her), the main set is a posh London row house with a narrow design that forces many scenes to move from floor to floor. Cukor brings fluid staging, unusual camera angles, elaborate tracking shots & long takes to the challenge. Perhaps they aren’t noticed because they always serve the story rather then call attention to themself. Joseph Ruttenberg’s lensing is masterfully lit (and shadowed), and Cukor even manages some believable street atmosphere, avoiding the flat, studio-bound Londontown look typical at M-G-M. (The Italian-set prologue shows the usual lack of care.) Ingrid Bergman actually deserved her Oscar as the blushing bride who naturally grows only more gorgeous as hysteria & illness overtake her. (Getting more beautiful as she got sicker & sicker was a Bergman specialty. See NOTORIOUS/’46 and ARCH OF TRIUMPH/’48.) As the obsessed, sadistic husband, Charles Boyer seems a bit OTT, but he’s got an acting strategy as well. When your audience is already ahead of the plot, why try to hide your character arc? It’s a clever move, and it works. Poor Joseph Cotton has no such option; his nice-guy role sucks. But 17 yr-old Angela Lansbury is hilariously assured as the cheeky parlour maid. What a knock-out debut. M-G-M’s suppression of the earlier British version (ANGEL STREET/’40) has made that film a Cinderella pick for many critics. But that’s no reason to denigrate Hollywood’s deluxe version.

CONTEST: Oddly, the most famous/suspenseful moment in the original play doesn’t appear in either film version. It involved a certain article of clothing. Name the item and who it belongs to to win our usual prize, a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choice.

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