Now for this week’s installment I will continue with my 31 Days of Oscar theme.
The first film is…
Gaslight (1944)For the record this film won two Academy Awards: one for Ingrid Bergman for Best Actress (her first) and another for Art Design (Black & White). It was nominated for 5 others: Best Picture, Best Actor (Charles Boyer), Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury- her first film role at 19), Best Black-and-White Cinematography and Best Screenplay.
This is a film that I had already seen so this is where some films get a real litmus tests. Most films diminish upon a second viewing, some stay the same, others, and this is rare, get better. Gaslight falls into the middle category which is not meant as a slight at all. It is still a tremendously effective piece of work. This is for the most part a chamber drama wherein a villain gets firmly established and he and our heroine face-off throughout the rest of the film.
What differentiates Gaslight somewhat is the amount of psychology that is employed. By the time we the audience realize Gregory (Boyer) is up to no good Paula (Bergman) already doubts herself and her sanity such that we never question why she doesn’t catch on. Boyer plays such a devilish role it’ll make your blood curdle.
This is a film that hinges on subtleties: footsteps in a locked room, the gaslight going down, the odd way the servants sometimes behave around their mistress. The final confrontation between husband and wife is not one of bombast but of anger tinged with lingering doubt. Bergman truly plays many notes in this performance perhaps her best moment is when she confronts her husband and tries to get back at him. The conclusion is marvelous as Joseph Cotten, a man who lies about the periphery of the tale and slowly takes center stage, moves in.
To discuss too many plot details would be to do this film a disservice. You should see it for yourself.
I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)
I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Paul Muni) and Best Sound Recording. Now this film does have a few things going for it aside form one of the most awesome titles in the history of cinema and a couple of major hindrances too.
Paul Muni is absolutely fantastic in this part. He brings to this part a humanity and cynicism that is needed to add an extra dimension to what may otherwise have been just another social issue film of the 1930s. Now one of the more inconsistent pieces of the puzzle is the writing. For example, for the good James Allen (Muni) is a character who is poised to be sort of an American Jean Valjean. He is arrested for being forced, at gunpoint, by a man he just met to assist in a robbery. He tried to flee and is caught. For that five dollars he stole he is sentenced to 10 years on the chain gang.
Some of the negatives of the writing are certain parts of his escape are just too easy after one really close call. The suspense as to whether or not he’ll make it is somewhat drained. Then there’s the biggest issue is when he is found out he willingly goes back. Now granted this sets up a tremendous last line in which you can’t even see Muni saying it as he has drifted back into the darkness but the tragedy which is impending is undermined by this acquiescence because it’s quite clear that the assurance that are being made are false. It’s terribly transparent and the decision happens fast. If he’d given a little thought something that the edit and the screenplay should’ve accounted for on more than one occasion it might’ve been easier to swallow.
The film ends up being not so much an expose as a very tightly would circle that should really pack more punch than it does but it is still very much worth a watch.