July 3, 2015

Ingrid Bergman, Gaslight

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress

When you have a film like Double Indemnity and a performance like Barbara Stanwyck's having solidified its places in Film Noir and cinematic histories, it's obvious that the performance which beat Stanwyck will have a mini-bad rap. Outlets like The Dissolve proudly proclaim that Ingrid Bergman's Best Actress win for Gaslight is a victory for the wrong role, but I think that's totally unfair to the actual performance itself, and underwriting the performance as a whole. Realistically Bergman would probably have won for anything that year, but Oscar politics aside, she does wonders as the scarred and fragile Paula, whose husband is slowly manipulating her towards insanity. There's no question that hers is the more forgotten performance when placed next to Stanwyck's, and it's not as though it's one of the most memorable winning performances in Best Actress history, but I do believe that it deserves more praise.

Sort of a twin sister to Joan Fontaine's second Mrs. de Winter, Bergman brings here the vulnerability she brought to her Maria just the year prior, and it's amplified to the max under George Cukor's direction. From there, what I saw was magnificent--the worry, the paranoia, the conflicting confusion and the deep-seated fear Bergman displays is forceful and effective, especially considering that the shenanigans and lies Boyer pulls all throughout the movie come off as more than just a little ridiculous and farfetched to modern eyes. But in spite of my initial reaction to be like, "Really? You're really falling for this?" the beauty in Bergman's abilities is making it real and vivid. That is the area where I find that she generally excels at--she is indubitably capable of grounding her characters and presenting them as realistically as possible, even when the films she's in veer off towards crazed melodrama. Her slow unwinding is sort of tough to watch as you feel so bad for Paula, and it's that very mix of fragility and total fear that makes scenes in her performance--such as her outburst at the concert and her subsequent outburst for her maid while alone in her room--all the more potent. By the time the film comes to a close, I was so impressed by the way in which Bergman showcases her fatigue and defeated-ness, splattered all across her face for us to see. I for one feel that this a really, truly great piece of work, and a perfectly fine win, even if the overwhelming majority opinion goes to Stanwyck.


  1. Watching Under the Capricorn, what I saw was Bergman giving a bad version of this performance. Then I rewatched Gaslight and the comparison made me like her much more. Still, I was more impressed by Boyer.

  2. Despite leading many a great actress to Oscar nominations and wins, Cukor himself would wait until My Fair Lady in 1964 for his own only win.