‘Gaslight’ 1940 vs. 1944: Which Version of the Film Is Better?

Gaslight 1940 VS 1944
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As far as classics go, Gaslight 1944 remains one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever created, which is why it was stored in the National Film Registry in 2019. Its less famous version, made four years earlier in Britain by Thorold Dickinson, also has passionate advocates who vouch for it as the better adaptation of the 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton. Fans of classic films are, therefore, conflicted about which version of Gaslight is better.

Both Gaslight 1940 and the MGM remake, Gaslight 1944, are exciting thrillers, with 1940 having a better adherence to the original play and 1944 having a more interesting build-up and aesthetics. As far as awards are concerned, Gaslight 1944 is the outright winner, having received 17 award nominations and winning two of them. Both films still played a big role in cementing the term Gaslighting as one of the most used words in the world.

Gaslight 1940 didn’t stand a chance against the heavily funded 1944 remake of the film by MGM. The George Cukor-directed film had a star-packed cast of Ingrid Berman, Charles Boyer, and Angela Lansbury. Gaslight 1944 also has a well-planned real-looking London estate and lots of other fascinating locations. However, the passionate performance and intense fright in Gaslight 1940 can’t be missed, so let’s look at why the film was remade and which one is better.

What is Gaslight about?

Gaslighting 1944 Version

Gaslight 1940 and 1944 are movies based on a 1938 play written by Patrick Hamilton about the psychological torture of a woman by her husband in a bid to rob her.

Both films follow the same storyline, although they execute it differently, using different characters and plots.

In both movies, a woman named Alice gets killed by a criminal named Bauer (Lous Bauer in 1940 and Sergis Bauer in 1944) in an estate in London in 1875.

The killer was looking for the woman’s expensive rubies but failed to locate them, so he tracks down the woman’s niece (Bella in 1940 and Paula in 1944) and starts a whirlwind romance with her leading to marriage.

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The niece marries the killer, who now uses a stolen identity (Paul Mallen in 1940, and Gregory Anton in 1944), and agrees to move with him back into her dead rich aunt’s house.

The man starts looking for a way to get the woman committed to a mental hospital after the marriage to give him ample time in the house to look for her aunt’s rubies that he failed to find in 1875.

Psychological torture in both movies involves a series of actions and abuses that make the woman doubt her own sanity.

The common thing about both movies is the dimming of lights caused by the husband’s tricks as he lowers the gas for the lamps while lighting one in the attic to look for the rubies.

He convinces the woman that the lights are not dimming and that she is seeing things that don’t exist, causing the poor woman to lose her sanity even further.

The hero in both films is an old friend of the aunt, and a detective, who comes to her rescue and helps catch the killer.

What is the difference between Gaslight 1940 and 1944?

Gaslight 1940 Poster vs 1944 Poster

Despite having a similar storyline since they are based on the same play, Gaslight 1944 has a longer and deeper story than Gaslight 1940.

In 1944, Paula Alquist took center stage, with the movie building her plot as she moves to Italy after her aunt’s death to train as a musician to follow in her aunt’s footsteps.

Ingrid Bergman does a great job of stealing attention as she portrays Paula as a really passionate musician from a privileged background.

However, the villain, Paul Mallen, takes center stage in Gaslight 1940, with misogyny and patriarchal dominance making Bella almost invisible.

In 1944, a real romantic connection developed between Paula and Gregory after they met at her music class in Italy.

Gregory draws Paula in with his good looks and lots of genuine-looking romantic moves that make Paula totally fall in love with him and unable to imagine life without him.

The longer background also helps build Paula’s dependence on Gregory, including how she gives up her career as a musician after he love-bombs her.

1940 is more instant in bringing in the gaslighting aspect of Paul’s plan without really bringing Bella’s personality to the audience.

1944 also beats 1940 by a wide margin in terms of location since all the scenes in 1940 are shot in a claustrophobic-looking set.

1944, on the other hand, gives a real-world setting to the movie as the couple has a good time in Italy before moving to an expensive-looking London estate.

While the storylines are pretty much similar, Paul in 1940 actually has an affair with the maid, while Gregory in 1944, despite flirting with the maid, doesn’t actually have an affair with her.

The main difference in the movies, therefore, is how the villain and the protagonist are portrayed because 1940’s Bella is more of a helpless victim as compared to 1944’s Paula.

Why did they remake Gaslight in 1944?

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight 1944

The reason why MGM chose to remake Gaslight 1940 was never made clear, but it is obvious that George Cukor believed he could tell the story better.

MGM invested more money in the remake than the low-budget 1940 version, which was released in the US under the title Angel Street.

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MGM was actually accused of doing their own version of “gaslighting” the viewers because they made attempts to destroy evidence of Gaslight 1940 ever existing.

The studio destroyed most of the existing copies of Gaslight 1940, and the personal copy kept by the director Thorold Dickinson is the only copy that was left.

Their decision to remake the film was rewarded by the huge success in the theaters that saw Gaslight 1944 go into history as one of the greatest films ever made.

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