Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Czech Psycho In London-When The Lust For Loot Leads A Guy To Gaslighting-Dame May Whitty’s Revenge-Ingrid Bergman’s “Gaslight” (1944)-A Film Review And More

A Czech Psycho In London-When The Lust For Loot Leads A Guy To Gaslighting-Dame May Whitty’s Revenge-Ingrid Bergman’s “Gaslight” (1944)-A Film Review And More

DVD Review

By Associate Film Reviewer Fritz Taylor

Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Dame May Whitty, Joseph Cotton, 1944

The lust for valuables, for gold, silver, jewels can drive a person right over the edge or as in the film under review Gaslight to the big step-off, to that lonely trip up those lonely steps to face the lord high executioner. Witness what happened to Warren Devine in the classic case of gold lust The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre when he fought all contenders only to see his loot blow away in the winds once the banditos had their say. Better, better for the case before us, one Bridgit Hennessey, although don’t get hung up on names since she used about six as she left a mountain of human skulls on the road, mostly male although I am sure she would have put a few slugs into some female if the occasion called for it, in pursuit of what one wag ironically called “the stuff of dreams,” in pursuit of some freaking jewel-encrusted bird in The Maltese Falcon. That look of the eye, that patented glazed eye is what would do one Serge Broguis, a Czech national, but again don’t get hung up on monikers since Interpol had about six aliases this con man worked under, so there had to be more when he went after Prince George’s jewels. The ones he gave to Alicia Adams, the famed English opera singer whom he gave as a little expensive keepsake when she was away from him (and which he could look when she was on stage and he was up in his box-with that arranged marriage wife he was saddled with by the Czar, or Tsar, the spelling the Bolsheviks used when they put him to earth during the Russian Civil War).          

You know I can still learn something in this wicked old life as old as I. For example, working on the back story for this review I found out that gaslight was not only the major form of illumination before the invention of the electric light which put that form in the shade so to speak but as a verb it meant to sow seeds of doubt in a person (I guess it could be a group too but that seems more problematic), to get them confused, to make them distrust memory and the like. The classic example is well in the film under review where Serge (remember don’t get hung on names) for his own greedy reasons tried to drive his newly wed wife crazy, bonkers, drive her to the loony bin, to the mental hospital.

This late Victorian thriller’s  plot is driven by the obsessive plan that Serge, played by a guy named Charles Boyer  goes into to make poor misbegotten Paula, played by Ingrid Bergman last seen in this space according to Josh Breslin who did the review (and a couple of subsequent pieces based on the fate of a few of the characters) taking that last flight to Lisbon arm and arm with her husband Victor Lazlo, yes, that Victor Lazlo who led the anti-Nazi struggle in Europe during World War II when it counted and the Nazis couldn’t seem to keep him penned in as hard as they tried. She, Ilsa leaving her lover Rick, no slouch himself in the anti-fascist struggle in Spain when that counted, to walk off arm and arm with his dear friend Lou, an ex-cop.

Here is how Serge fell down, how he joined Warren and his gold dust dreams and Brigid and her freaking jewel lust. While Alicia Adams was performing in Prague Serge had wound up filling in for her regular piano player who had caught a cold and Alicia insisted that he not play. Somehow at the party after the performance Serge got wind of the fact that Alicia was this Prince George’s mistress, his fancy woman really who to show his devotion (and piss on his wife’s parade) gave her the previously mentioned priceless jewels. That got him crazy, gave him that glazed eye. and he hatched a plan to grab the jewels when Alicia went back to her home in London. First screw-up. Serge with what must have been leaden shoes woke Alicia up and she came downstairs to confront Serge. End of Alicia but not end of story. Paula, her ward, had come down the stairs subsequently to find her body and as a sensitive young girl was traumatized enough to be sent away.

Fast forward a few years with Paula in splendid exile in Italy learning to become an opera singer like her late aunt. And at the piano. Yes, the ever-scheming Serge. His bright idea and it had some merit if too many moving parts to woo and marry Paula, get her to go back to London to the house on Thornton Place that her aunt had left her and then go to work on her, gaslight, now that you know what that means, the hell out of her. Figuring as far as anybody could tell to drive her crazy with his efforts at undermining her mental state OR better finding those freaking jewels he had already committed murder for. Like I said not bad if with too many moving parts.

The too many moving parts included being way to aggressive in his undermining of Paula’s mental state and his incessant going to the attic where he had had all of Alicia’s possession placed so he could look for the jewels at his leisure. That got a guy from Scotland Yard, a detective, played by Joseph Cotton last seen in this space playing an American psycho serial killer who went after young girls in the Midwest, suspicious. Aroused more than that since he had been an admirer, possibly a lover of Alicia, and had been working the case if only in his mind ever since her passing. Eventually the game of cat and mouse between Serge and Cameron led to Serge’s demise, to his being carried off to face his maker pretty soon. Cameron naturally took up the slack in Paula fragile life and possession of the confiscated jewels to be turned into Scotland Yard for disposal to whoever was the rightful owner, if one could be found.        
Postscript: I mentioned above when I was giving the reader information about the expression “to gaslight” that I had found out that information while I was researching the back story of what really happened around this famous jewelry lust case. Of course, the knowledgeable film-goer, reader, writer, artist and so on knows that there is always a back story that those who are producing the product either eliminate or refuse to tell a candid world for their own reasons. That is the case here as well.

On the face of it a two-bit piano player like Serge, lucky to get a gig every now and again when some regular real piano player was out sick or had some other reason not to perform especially in Prague could not have carried out this con on his own. A guy who moreover had a nagging wife at home in that old city and a ton of bills to be paid and as importantly had never been to London, had never been further that Vienna in the old days when there was an Austro-Hungarian Empire. And he was not alone, no way.   

Enter one Dame May Whitty (her real name as far at the authorities knew although they never made the connection between her and Serge until long after she was dead, and somebody was researching the case to write a play about what had happened. The Dame, a known widely travelled older woman who had never married, ran into Serge in Prague shortly after he had subbed for the regular piano for Alicia Adams, and during conversation they found they had mutual interests in Ms. Adams. The Dame burning with hatred for Alicia who lived across the street from her in Thornton Square, London after Alicia took Prince George away from her and Serge having that outsized lust for what he had heard were priceless jewels given to Alicia by Prince George. Maybe not a union in heaven, maybe not anything more than convenience but there you have it.

If you have read above then you know that this Serge was a holy goof, not my expression but from Jack Kerouac via Josh Breslin, couldn’t find those freaking jewels when he broke into Alicia’s house and had to kill her leaving Paula to fend for herself once she saw her aunt dead on the floor in front of the fireplace. You would have thought that let Dame Whitty out once Alicia was dead, but Serge had a certain amount of leverage both because he could implicate her and because the Dame had her own plans for Alicia’s house. She needed her cut, that ten percent commission, from the to be fenced jewels, to continue her masterplan to buy up all the properties in Thornton Square and build the equivalent of condos, then townhouses.

Once Serge’s gaslighting of poor misbegotten Paula failed and he was taken away by Scotland Yard to eventually face the lord high executioner and Detective Cameron had confiscated the priceless jewels you would have thought that would certainly be the end of it. No, one thousand times no, that was only really the beginning. The Dame had hedged her bets and made an agreement with the detective that if Serge fell down and he certainly looked like he was heading that way when he overplayed his hand and lowered that foolish gaslight gag one time too many and spent too much time in the attic that she would clear the way for Paula to keep her town house and more importantly clear the way for him to marry the bereft Paula. Plus ten percent of the take of the fenced jewels. He was in. He and Paula and good neighbor Dame Whitty enjoyed the benefits of Serge’s doomed work and their subsequently upscale neighborhood and left this good green earth without any suspicion cast their way. Nice.                   

[By the way the fencing of those priceless jewels which were not so priceless after all once the Dame took control of them was done as all illegal transactions in those were through Larry Lawrence. The reader may know once young writer Will Bradley exposed him was known under the public name of Sherlock Holmes who along with a guy named Nigel Bruce, please again don’t get hung up on names since Scotland Yard had about a dozen names he worked under ran half the illegal operations in London under cover of some private detective scam over on Baker Street. Larry took his ten percent, and a surcharge to keep quiet about where the jewels came from, which both Dame Whitty and Cameron agreed was fair enough to keep them from having to do any heavy lifting for the rest of their lives. Paula too once she got some very sound psychological help.]          

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