Available via Warner Archive;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.

Stars Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty.

Though this couldn’t have been the intention unless some ornery jester inside the Warner Archive brain trust was plotting mild mischief, the new Blu-ray of Gaslight’s additional inclusion of the 1940 Brit original serves an added purpose beyond pouring gravy on a already delicious release. There are lots of reasons why the famed Hollywood follow-up is the version we remember — the result of every production salvo that MGM could lob at it just four years later. Thus, the combined package amounts to a college-level course on how a big-screen mystery on the high side of adequate can be rethought into a classic.

And Metro’s superbly cast George Cukor remake definitely is one, at least of its kind, even if it remains somewhat overshadowed by an astounding string of all-timers from the same year (1944): Double IndemnityMeet Me in St. LouisHail the Conquering HeroThe Miracle of Morgan’s CreekLaura; and maybe Murder, My Sweet. There was a deep bench, too (Christmas Holiday, anyone?). That old canard about 1939 being the best year for Golden Age movies remains, well … a canard (see also 1946). It also makes one think again about the current theatrical attendance that’s been down all year, enough that my neighborhood multiplex is probably checking this very minute to see if it has enough marquee numerals to handle Howard the Duck CMLXXVIII.

The MGM Gaslight is so stylish— it and Adam’s Rib are easily Cukor’s best films of the 1940s endless you like The Philadelphia Story better than I do — that I wonder if Louis B. Mayer somehow hated it, at least until he saw the grosses. Probably not, because it was steeped in a bedrock genre (historical murder mystery) and thus not one of those new-fangled problem pictures or twisted sisters that probably had L.B. reaching for the Preparation H (everything from Freaks through Intruder in the Dust and a couple John Huston pictures from the early ’50s). On the other hand, to get its ideal cast, the studio had to borrow two A-list leads from penurious David O. Selznick (not just eventual Ingrid Bergman but Joseph Cotten as well). Nor was top-billed Charles Boyer under contract to Leo the Lion.

Gaslight was originally a play by Patrick Hamilton, who also penned the original Rope (later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock — and definitely a movie he had to have hated) plus the eponymous novel that later led to John Brahm’s Hangover Square. The Boyer-Bergman take runs half-an-hour longer than its predecessor (which makes a lot of difference in its favor), and a lot of key details are changed, but the basics are pretty consistent in both versions. A wastrel (The Red Shoes’s Anton Walbrook in the original) marries a delicate woman (the Oscar-winning Cavalcade’s Diana Wynyard) for her inheritance, which is mostly wrapped up in the London house once owned by the latter’s aunt, who was victim of an unsolved murder a decade or so earlier.

The kicker, though, is that the old woman also left her extraordinary valuable jewels somewhere in the house, which the murderer is unable to locate. Thus, he resorts to a rather extreme Plan B, which involves marrying the niece (who was a child when the tragedy occurred) and moving back into the same house, which had remained unoccupied over the ensuing years. This really isn’t spoiler material because most of it is divulged fairly early on — and besides, this is much, much more of a psychological drama than mystery despite some subsequent sleuthing by the suspicious Law. And because “gaslight” used as a verb has so re-entered contemporary parlance — as in, “Someone has been trying to convince me that the most famous tabloid grifter of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s got elected president” — even the unknowing can easily surmise what the husband is trying to do here to his wife’s shaky emotional state. (A literal gaslight is a key factor in the plot as well.)

Whereas the British original tosses us right into all this without any context, the MGM opens with a happy Bergman in another country, which makes her mental and even physical dissolution so much more dramatic as the movie progresses. What’s more, the remake’s establishing scenes allow us to see Boyer briefly turn on the charm (which Walbrook is never allowed to do), which gives us a reason to accept that the about-to-be new victim would marry this guy in the first place. By turning both parties into respectively, a voice-lesson student and her accompanist, the couple’s obvious built-in musical appreciation adds power to a later scene (in both films) where the wife’s emotional state half-ruins a recital.

And though both versions feature an inspector who, from afar, senses something is badly awry, the original gives us a rumpled-Brit standard issue while the later version serves up a dapper Scotland Yard crime-sniffer played by Cotten. This last move adds some sexual tension to the later going, and though the movie isn’t heavy-handed enough to shoehorn in a romance,there’s definitely something in the air from both directions, and it gives the narrative a boost.

None of this is to knock — at least to any great degree — the decent-enough earlier picture, which, for its part, suffers right out of the gate here via an unrestored print (fans of the original with an all-Region player should note that in a previous Region B solo release from the BFI offers a standalone print that is). But the Cukor version is so beautifully rendered, especially in its performances and cosmetics, that there’s really no comparison, no matter how you cut it. The actors are so on point (the perpetually underrated Boyer more than included) that Cukor knows to let their faces carry the day, only moving the camera in those situations where it’s best served (there are a lot of interior nicknacks to play with here), which was his style. In fact, the cinematography is so lush that I temporarily convinced myself while watching it that Gaslight had to have gotten Joseph Ruttenberg one of his four cinematography Oscars, forgetting that the black-and-white award went to Laura that same year.

Watching Bergman fall to pieces in increments (often increments in the same scene) is an extraordinary acting feat that comes to Blu-ray just a few weeks after Criterion put out Olivia de Havilland’s showstopper in The Heiress; it’s almost too much to absorb. I wouldn’t have wanted to be an academy voter choosing between Bergman and Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) in 1944 — though for me personally with Bergman, she’ll always be Sister Mary Benedict in The Bells of St. Mary’s, her next movie after Gaslight. And this is coming from a lapsed Presbyterian.

Another treat here is the teenaged Angela Lansbury as this very dysfunctional household’s servant — one who seems to have managed the tuition to go to tart school on the side. Remarkably, this was the same year Lansbury played Elizabeth Taylor’s sister in National Velvet (now, that would make a great Warner Archive Blu-ray), so it looks as of MGM must have figured out it the versatility it had on its hands fairly early (oh, if L.B. Mayer had lived to see The Manchurian Candidate). Lansbury, who just keeps plugging, offers some bonus section remembrances as well — but the MGM Gaslight is such a resplendent entertainment that Warner could have given it as a no-frills release, and it still would be a Blu-ray factor at year’s end.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Mother Wore Tights’

‘Weird Science,’ Bigelow’s Debut ‘The Loveless’ and Classic ‘Hold Back the Dawn’ Coming to Blu-ray From Arrow and MVD in July

The 1980s teen comedy Weird Science, Kathryn Bigelow’s debut feature The Loveless and the classic Oscar nominee Hold Back the Dawn are among the films on the July Blu-ray slate from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group.

First up July 2 is the late 1970s rock-n-roll comedy FM. Oscar-nominated John A. Alonzo directs this story of radio station mutiny. After being forced to play more commercials, including military recruitment ads, DJs and other employees take control and fight their corporate bosses by playing as much music as possible. The new HD release, transferred from the original camera negatives, features extras including a new interview with the film’s star Michael Brandon; a new interview with writer Ezra Sacks; “The Spirit of Radio,” a newly filmed video appreciation of the era of FM radio and the FM soundtrack by film and music critic Glenn Kenny; a gallery of original stills, promotional images and soundtrack sleeves; original trailers; a reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer and critic Paul Corupe.

Due July 9 is Oscar-winner Bigelow’s debut feature (co-directed by Monty Montgomery) The Loveless. Set in the 1950s, The Loveless is the story of a motorcycle gang heading to the races in Daytona. Along the way they stop in a small southern town, leaving the locals less they pleased. Willem Dafoe, also making his debut, stars. The Loveless is presented restored and in HD for the first time, with a new transfer approved by Montgomery and director of photography Doyle Smith. Extras include a new audio commentary with Montgomery, moderated by Elijah Drenner; making-of featurettes; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Peter Stanfield.

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On July 16 come two releases, 1941’s Hold Back the Dawn and 1990s horror flick The Chill Factor.

Nominated for six Oscars, Hold Back the Dawn stars Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland in the story of one man’s hope of making it to the United States by marrying a citizen. The plan is to leave his would-be bride upon making his way into the country, but the plan has a few hiccups thanks to a determined immigration officer and a true love that begins to blossom. Presented in HD for the first time, the release includes extras such as new audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin; “Love Knows No Borders,” a newly filmed video appreciation by film critic Geoff Andrew; a career-spanning onstage audio interview with de Havilland recorded at the National Film Theatre in 1971; an hour-long radio adaptation of Hold Back the Dawn from 1941 starring Boyer, Paulette Goddard and Susan Haywood; a gallery of original stills and promotional images; the original trailer; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jennifer Dionisio; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer and critic Farran Smith Nehme.

The Chill Factor, also known as Demon Possessed, is the only film directed by producer Christopher Webster. In the film, a group of friends out on a snowmobile trip seek refuge when one of them gets knocked unconscious following an accident. They locate an abandoned cabin to take cover. The cabin happens to hold a number of bizarre religious artifacts, and they mistakenly awaken a terrible evil. Extras include a new audio commentary with special effects artist Hank Carlson and horror writer Josh Hadley; a new on-camera interview with makeup artist Jeffery Lyle Segal; a new on-camera interview with production manager Alexandra Reed; a new on-camera interview with stunt coordinator Gary Paul; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach; and for the first pressing, only a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Mike White.

Steelbook packaging

Due July 23 is the 1980s John Hughes classic Weird Science available in regular and steelbook packaging. Starring Anthony Michael Hall, the comedy follows a pair of nerds that attempt to create the perfect woman via their computer. The release features a new 4K restoration from the original negatives and includes the original theatrical version as well as the extended version. As an added bonus, a standard definition transfer of the edited-for-TV release is included. Additional special features include an archive making-of documentary; new interviews with special makeup creator Craig Reardon, composer Ira Newborn, supporting actor John Kapelos and casting director Jackie Burch; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tracie Ching; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Amanda Reyes.