Debonair actor Charles Boyer's contract demanded that he received top billing in George Cukor's 1944 thriller Gaslight. Ingrid Bergman received second-billing. But it will always be remembered as her movie. And when it came to judging that year's crop of films, there was no doubt that year that the Oscar for 'Best Actress' really went to the best.
Bergman plays Paula, a young woman who is studying music in Europe. Paula was orphaned when young, and brought up by her aunt, a famous opera-singer. Paula has really been orphaned twice - one night, just ten years before we meet her, she walks downstairs in her London home to find her aunt's body. She has been murdered. Strangled.
Now Paula has fallen in love with pianist Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). They marry and Gregory persuades her to return with him to London, to take up residence in the home Paula's aunt has left her - the very home in which she had lived with her aunt.
Gregory, though, has a far larger agenda than just being husband and lover. And that agenda can only be served by isolating Paula from all of society and slowly persuading her that she is in fact insane.
Enough of the plot - that's for you to discover. Most of the performances here are terrific. Ingrid Bergman's comes first. In an accompanying documentary, her daughter Pia Lindstrom recounts how Ingrid spent days at a mental hospital, studying the eyes of insane women. The research paid off - at the peak of her induced fearful mania, she looks like a frightened animal at bay. Her eyes glaze over at times. Or else they look everywhere and anywhere, as if afraid to focus too intently on one object. And all this is captured by the fine black and white cinematography.
The other notable cast-member is young Angela Lansbury, making her screen debut as the house-maid Nancy; wise beyond her years, reeking of sexual innuendo and insolence. It's an amazing initial performance from an actress who began filming in Gaslight when aged just 17, and who celebrated her 18th birthday on the set.
Charles Boyer, best known as a continental lover and matinee-idol, is cast against type as the villain, and there is not all that much subtlety in his performance. But the premise of the movie is so terrible and the acting of Bergman is so realistic that, in a way, his slightly less-than-convincing acting is welcome. If this role had been played by someone able to conjure up true evil - James Mason for instance - the film would have been almost unendurably horrific.
Joseph Cotten plays Brian Cameron, a detective from Scotland Yard. He coincidentally was a schoolboy admirer of Paula's aunt, and he suspects that not all is right at Number 9 Thornton Square. And watch for veteran character actor Dame May Whitty as Paula's nosy neighbour Miss Whaites - she looks not a day older than when she famously vanished from Alfred Hitchcock's train six years earlier.
This vaguely Hitchcockian thriller represents the Hollywood studio system at its best. As well as a fine setpiece for Ingrid Bergman and company, it shows off the skills of director George Cukor, who, it seems, could turn his hand to just about anything.
Cukor's filmography (about 50 titles are listed in my pocket-guide) includes such classics as The Women, Meet Me in St Louis, My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, A Star is Born and Born Yesterday - most definitely a master of his trade.
Once again Warner shows it's the industry leader in bringing classic titles to the screen. This black and white movie is 60 years old, yet the image is fresh and clear.
The sets (the entire film was made on giant Hollywood soundstages for both interior and exterior shots) calls for a gloomy, claustrophobic intensity, and this is captured with effective lighting which this print succeeds in realising with virtually no visible wear or tear. It's a sensational transfer. The image is full-screen, which represents the movie's original aspect ratio.