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Classic Cinema Review: “Gaslight” (1940)

Classic Cinema Review: “Gaslight” (1940)

“Gaslight,” the 1940 British thriller directed by Thorold Dickinson, stands as a seminal piece in the annals of psychological drama. This film, adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s play “Gas Light,” is a masterclass in tension, atmosphere, and the gradual unveiling of a deeply unsettling narrative.

Plot Summary

The story revolves around Bella Mallen (played by Diana Wynyard), who moves back into her family home in London with her new husband, Paul (Anton Walbrook). The house, steeped in eerie history, becomes the stage for Paul’s sinister psychological manipulation. As Paul systematically dims the gaslights and denies Bella’s perceptions, she begins to doubt her sanity. This deliberate, meticulous torment is the core of the film, creating a chilling exploration of psychological abuse.


Anton Walbrook’s portrayal of the malevolent husband is both captivating and horrifying. His calm demeanor and calculated cruelty are portrayed with a subtlety that enhances the terror. Diana Wynyard delivers a compelling performance as Bella, embodying vulnerability and confusion. The supporting cast, including Frank Pettingell as B.G. Rough, adds depth to the story, making the viewer feel both sympathy and suspense.

Direction and Cinematography

Thorold Dickinson’s direction is superb, with a keen sense of pacing that keeps the audience on edge. The use of shadow and light is particularly effective, creating an atmosphere thick with dread. Cinematographer Bernard Knowles deserves special mention for his work, as the visual style significantly contributes to the film’s haunting mood. The claustrophobic interiors and dimly lit rooms mirror Bella’s psychological confinement, making her plight all the more palpable.

Themes and Impact

“Gaslight” is not just a thriller; it’s a profound exploration of power dynamics and psychological manipulation. The term “gaslighting” has since entered the lexicon, denoting a form of psychological abuse where the victim is led to question their reality. This film was instrumental in bringing this concept to light, making it not only a piece of entertainment but also a critical cultural artifact.

Comparison with the 1944 Version

While the 1944 American remake, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, is often more recognized, the 1940 original holds its ground with a more subtle and arguably more intense atmosphere. Dickinson’s version is less polished, but this rawness adds to its authenticity and impact.


“Gaslight” (1940) is a must-watch for fans of classic cinema and psychological thrillers. Its exploration of manipulation and reality is timeless, and the performances are hauntingly effective. This film is a testament to the power of cinema to delve deep into the human psyche and reveal the darkest corners of human relationships.

Whether you are a cinephile or a casual viewer, “Gaslight” offers an experience that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally gripping. It’s a film that lingers in the mind, much like the unsettling glow of a flickering gaslight.

For more insights on classic films and their impact, keep following our blog for in-depth reviews and discussions.

Memoirs with Shri Mataji * :


In late 1987, before we moved to Italy, Shri Mataji asked Ruth to come up to her house in Rosary Gardens in London to help make some curtains.  One day while she was staying there, Shri Mataji, Ruth, and Helen had lunch together.  Then Mother began to walk around the room.  ‘I’m bored,’ she said, ‘what shall we do?’  She switched on the TV.  Just at the moment, the titles of a film were coming up.  It was Gaslight, not the fine Ingrid Bergman version but the slightly earlier 1940 production, with Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard.  ‘This is good, let’s watch it,’ said Mother.  Helen sat in an armchair, Ruth sat side by side with Mother on the sofa, and they watched the film.

The plot of Gaslight revolves around a man’s attempt to drive his wife insane in order that he can have her committed to an asylum, at which point he will be able to claim some jewellery that is hers by right.  Shri Mataji remarked on the clarity with which the actors and actresses spoke in these old films, and also commented on how sweet the heroine was and how dignified she looked in the clothes of that period, particularly in the sweeping, off-the-shoulder ball gown which she wore in one scene.  The husband – ‘evil through and through’ – almost succeeds in his plan, but at the last moment the young wife is rescued.  Then it’s her turn to stand up to her husband and tell him what she thinks of him. ‘Yes, yes, that’s right, go on, tell him!’ said Mother.

GASLIGHT – by Sahaja Yogi Richard – Canada

There is a movie called Gaslight. Shri Mataji once recommended this film in a recorded talk to Sahaja Yogis. She was saying basically that Hollywood doesn’t make good movies the way they used to in the 1930s and 1940s and then mentioned this film as an example of the way they used to do it.

This is very good film, of course, but maybe not what you’d expect Shri Mataji to single out. It has some elements of Somerset Maugham and Agatha Christie. It is a deeply psychological murder mystery and a bit dark at times, but great entertainment.

This story has been filmed several times. the one you want is the 1944 version directed by George Cukor and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty and (a very young) Angela Lansbury.


*Biography of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi is a renowned spiritual leader who has been guiding seekers of truth since the 1970s. She achieved full self-realization on May 5, 1970, and since then, she has been revered as a True Spiritual Guru. Shri Mataji is the founder of Sahaja Yoga Meditation, a practice that aims to awaken the latent spiritual energy known as Kundalini Shakti. This awakening can only be facilitated by an authorized soul, and Shri Mataji has dedicated her life to helping people achieve spiritual enlightenment through Sahaja Yoga.

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