To gaslight someone means driving that person crazy using mind tricks, building up paranoia and causing disorientation.

The term comes from the Oscar winning film "Gaslight" (1944) in which a husband convinces his wife she is losing her mind (for instance, he secretly plays around with the gaslight).

The movie "Gaslight" was directed by George Cukor, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman (and a guest appearance by Angela Lansbury).

Gaslight (1944) is a film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten. The version released in 1944 by MGM was a remake of the 1940 film made in England and released both as Gaslight and Angel Street. Both of these were adaptations of the stage play from 1938 also called Gas Light.

In the grand style typical of 1940's melodramatic filmmaking in Hollywood, Gaslight is an authentic Victorian-era story about a woman who is slowly and systematically driven towards madness by her scheming criminal of a husband. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1944: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It won for both Best Art Direction and Ingrid Bergman got the Best Actress Oscar. Also notable was Angela Lansbury's nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her film debut in this film at only age seventeen!


In the film, Bergman plays Paula Alquist, the niece of a wealthy woman brutally murdered while she lived in her house with her. Distraught at her aunt's loss, she is taken away by her new guardian, a friend of her aunt's and a singing teacher, to Italy to pursue a music career. Many years pass, and Paula grows up and falls in love with her accompanyist, a charming and handsome man named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). Tired of her musical studies that she feels are going nowhere, she and Gregory marry and Gregory tells her he'd always dreamed of living in London. She says that his dream house reminds her of the house she'd inherited from her aunt who had been murdered but that she hadn't dared to return there. He convinces her it will be alright, that they can move there and begin a new life.

Upon the couple moving in, the film really begins to tighten its grip on you. Slowly, Paula begins to "accidentally" lose various things and forget engagements that Gregory attributes to her being forgetful and high-strung. They take a tour of the Tower of London and view the Crown Jewels; during the tour, the audience gets a truly stunning momentary glimpse into Gregory's darker side that we'd only guessed was there before. Admiring the jewels, he talks about how nothing in the world can compare to them and that "... jewels are wonderful things. They have a life of their own."

Then she begins to complain to her maid that when she's sitting alone in her bedroom, the gaslights there begin to dim. Since the whole house was lit on gas, if another room's lights were turned up, the amount of gas delivered to the other lights in the house would decrease and so all of the other lights would dim down. However, the maid swears that she didn't turn the lights up anywhere else in the house. Paula begins to think she is losing control of herself. While the gaslights dim, she also believes she hears footsteps creaking in the boarded-up third floor. She knows this is impossible, but still she hears it, and feels madness creeping in on her.

Nancy, the maid played by Angela Lansbury, thinks Paula is losing her mind as well and sides with Gregory in keeping her shut up in the house. Paula, paranoid that she will make a spectacle of herself if she goes out, forgetful and absent-minded as she imagines herself to be, stays locked up inside all of the time. Meanwhile, Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten), a Scotland Yard detective, curious about gossip regarding the lady who never leaves her house, begins to investigate the unsolved case of Paula's aunt's murder. It was assumed that a thief killed her in a failed attempt to steal precious jewels from her house.

In the end, the detective uncovers Gregory's plot to attempt to steal the jewels again, as he was indeed the murderer of Paula's aunt. The footsteps Paula heard in the attic were Gregory ransacking the aunt's belongings in search of them. His work driving his wife mad was his cover to search for the jewels undetected. However, the film ends well, with Gregory being captured and Paula regaining her sense of peace and sanity.

Gaslight is one of my favorite films of all time, perhaps because I enjoy many similar movies from the 40's like Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt and Sorry, Wrong Number. There's a shadowed, haunted feel to Gaslight, something like watching an old gothic oil painting coming to life; it's real but it's so cloaked with mystery and as an audience member you're never quite sure, even at the end, if you've gotten even one-half of the real story. The twisted relationship between Paula and Gregory even gave rise to the phrase "to gaslight" somebody; referring to a use of psychological tricks and mindgames to convince someone they're going insane.

Film Credits

DIRECTOR : George Cukor
PRODUCER : Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
CINEMATOGRAPHY : Joseph Ruttenberg
ART DIRECTION : Cedric Gibbons

Charles Boyer : Gregory Anton
Ingrid Bergman : Paula Alquist
Joseph Cotten : Brian Cameron
Dame May Whitty : Miss Thwaites
Angela Lansbury : Nancy Oliver
Barbara Everest : Elizabeth Tompkins
Emil Rameau : Maestro Mario Guardi
Edmund Breon : Gen. Huddleston
Halliwell Hobbes : Mr. Muffin
Tom Stevenson : Williams
Heather Thatcher : Lady Dalroy
Lawrence Grossmith : Lord Dalroy
Jakob Gimpel : Pianist


Gas"light` (?), n.


The light yielded by the combustion of illuminating gas.


A gas jet or burner.


© Webster 1913.

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