Monday 23 August 2010


Patrick Hamilton was surely one of the most interesting British writers of the first half of the last century, and it has often surprised me that, for all the critical interest in the man and his work (there are two excellent biographies, plus an interesting memoir by his brother Bruce, himself a crime novelist of some distinction), Hamilton is seldom mentioned in histories of British crime fiction. Yet he is an important figure.

One of his greatest successes was the play Gaslight, which in 1940 was turned into a film by Thorold Dickinson, with Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard in the lead roles. Four years later, there was a Hollywood version which apparently led to attempts to suppress, in effect, the earlier film, but this does not mean that the 1940 adaptation lacked merit. I’ve just watched it and felt that, even though it has a quaint feel at times, it was very well done indeed.

Walbrook is a nasty piece of work with a criminal past who, for reasons that eventually become clear, is trying to drive his rather submissive wife insane. But why does the gaslamp in her room flicker at certain times of the night? What can be done to save her – or is she doomed to fall victim to her sadistic husband

There is a streak of cruelty in Hamilton’s work that I find slightly distasteful, but it does not mean that I don’t admire his work – I certainly do. He was a strange, and rather sad, man, and to some extent he exorcised his demons through his writing. This version of Gaslight is, even seventy years after it was made, still well worth watching.


Fiona said...

I haven't seen the film but saw the play at the local repertory theatre many years ago - so many, that I have no clear memories other than the scary atmosphere! It must have been a good production.

Unfortunately the theatre closed several years later and is now derelict. It had been opened to great acclaim and was very popular, but eventually was killed by an avant garde director who insisted on giving audiences what he thought they should want.....

Martin Edwards said...

Good but sad story, Fiona. The theatre by the lake in Keswick is a good example of a theatre that knows its audience.