Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gaslight or Gaslight

The relationship between classic film and remake is clear. A classic film is one which for some inexplicable reason achieves greatness, whatever that may be. All explanations are post hoc and therefore useless for prediction. I've heard a number of discussions and read a number of essays discussing this, but there seems to be little agreement overall. What does seem to happen is that the right combination of director, actors, and story come together and results in something nobody expected.

In any case, people view the classic films for many decades after its first appearance, it is studied in film classes, and its stars frequently find their careers beginning or in some cases resurrected as a result of this film.

Several decades later, someone decides that doing it again might be a good way of making some money. Those who remember and liked the original version would be expected to be curious about what this version is like, thereby insuring at least a fair number of viewers. Doing a remake also insures free advertising since critics, scholars, and knowledgeable fans will, no doubt, debate the wisdom or necessity of "doing it again."

I no longer remember what inspired me, but I decided to view _Gaslight_, a classic that I had never seen. I did the usual online search and discovered there were two films with that title, one in 1940 and one from 1944. I saw two possibilities here: two entirely different films with the same title, or, a remote possibility that the classic already had a remake, some four years later, which made no sense.

I went to the 1940 film and it sounded like the _Gaslight_ I had heard of, a husband who attempts to drive his wife mad, with a murder and jewels all in the mix. But the stars were Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, and it was directed by Thorold Dickinson. This definitely was not the _Gaslight_ I had heard so much about.

I then checked out the 1944 version, which had the same plot. But, the stars were Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton, Angela Lansbury (who made her screen debut in this film), and it was directed by George Cukor. This was the film I was looking for, but it was the remake.

I don't know if this has ever happened before, (at least I've never heard of it), but the remake of a film became the classic, and the original has disappeared into the film history books. Perhaps those scholars, critics, and knowledgeable viewers knew about this, but they've kept it a secret.

I generally ignore remakes of classic films because I have found that the magic, whatever it was that made the original version a classic, doesn't carry over to the second version. But, since this was an unusual situation, I decided to see, if possible, both versions. In a local video rental store, I found a DVD that had both the 1940 and the 1944 versions.

Both are based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, _Gas Light_, which appeared on stage in 1938 and had a 3-4 year run.

As to be expected, the two films resemble each other, although some significant differences exist, mostly in tone and some involving the characters. The 1940 version focuses strongly on the process by which the husband is attempting to slowly drive his wife mad. In this version, the wife has married a sadist.

The 1944 version concentrates more on the relationship between the husband and wife and the way he uses her almost completely dependent love for him to drive her mad. In this version, the wife loves a sadist.

The plot takes control of the 1940 version, although characterization is adequate. In the 1944 version, characterization is more important, but the plot is still strongly present. I couldn't help but wonder why she loved him, after the way he had treated her.

The one major change in the characters in the story involves the detective who suspects something strange is taking place and investigates. In the 1940 version, the detective is a retired police officer who now owns a livery stable in the neighborhood. In the 1944 version, the detective is a much younger and handsomer man (Joseph Cotton) who is a police officer at Scotland Yard.

There are other changes concerning the major characters, but the basic elements of an unsolved crime in the past involving a murdered woman and jewels are in both.

See both. Which do you think is the classic?

One question has been nagging at me. Which is closest to the play? Hmmm....Another search?

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