One of the interesting things about the 1001 movies list is that, unless you are up on your old cinema and theater, you don’t know what to expect with a lot of films. Gaslight (1944) was one of these. Before viewing it, I wasn’t familiar with either the play or the movie, so I expected it to be some kind of Victorian-era costume-drama love story.
Of course it was nothing of the sort – and, if I’d thought about it a bit, I could probably have predicted it. You see, 1944 was smack in the middle of the film noir era, and its sensibilities ranged far and wide. Heck some of the films were even set outside of Los Angeles.
The case of Gaslight, however, must be seen as an extreme example. Setting a noir-esque film in Victorian London was a bit of a stretch, even for the era. Given my choice, I’d have kept the genre in contemporary America – but that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t interesting. It has quite a few memorable aspects.
The first is that by being set outside of the usual time and place of noir, it gets to play with social structures and even technology quite foreign to the hard-boiled private eyes that populate more typical fare. Even the film’s climax (won’t give spoilers) could not have happened during the mid twentieth century. So in that regard, it is quite clever.
On the other hand, it also uses much of noir’s shorthand, especially the tortured human elements and unhealthy relationships that are so typical of the format. There’s even a hard-boiled detective (although he works for Scotland Yard as opposed to having a seedy office in a high-rise).
Though it’s not a bad movie, this one probably earned its place on the 1001 movies list because of the fact that it experimented in mixing genres in ways that most noir flicks didn’t in the 1940s. Yes, there were variations on the theme (making the hero an insurance salesman or a woman instead of a detective), but this one was probably the most extreme. In a world a book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a real thing (and soon to be a movie itself), an experiment of this sort probably wouldn’t attract a whole lot of attention – but that was not the case in 1944.
So, glad to have seen it, but not really all that keen to recommend it to anyone. Watch it if the above has piqued your interest… or give it a miss. There are other, better films noir to spend your time on… and we’ll have a writeup of at least a few of them here soon!