There is a subgenre of noir that brings the characteristic visual style and the narrative of distrust to a different age. British settings of the Edwardian era proved particularly popular, as seen in such films as The Lodger (Hitchcock, 1927) and Hangover Square (John Brahm, 1945). Perhaps the most famous of these Edwardian noir tales is Gaslight.
The era may be a popular choice because it came just after the repressive Victorian age and was, according to Wikipedia, “marked by significant shifts in politics as sections of society that had been largely excluded from wielding power in the past, such as common labourers and women, became increasingly politicised.” As a genre, film noir often psychologizes social anxieties, and the text of Gaslight can certainly be argued to indirectly address fears of women and the working class growing in visibility and power.
In fact, the popularity of the film resulted in a particular fame for its title. Like those who know the term “Stepford Wife” without having seen the film or its remake, those who have seen neither the original British nor the American remake of the film often know the phrase “to gaslight someone” as shorthand for manipulating a sane person into fearing they are insane.
In his review of the 1944 remake, Emmanuel Levy classifies the film even more precisely, identifying Gaslight as part of a prominent noir “film cycle in the 1940s that can be described as ‘Don’t Trust Your Husband.'” He links Gaslight with such films as Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Shadow of a Doubt (1943) as well as Jane Eyre (1944), Dragonwyck (1945), Notorious and The Spiral Staircase (both 1946), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), and Sorry, Wrong Number and Sleep, My Love (both 1948).
Because the remake is better known to American audiences and more difficult to find for #BNoirDetour viewing, this Sunday we will indulge ourselves in the original British thriller of 1940. Please join us at 9pm ET for the live tweet. Here is a link, and the film can also be found on Amazon Prime.