Anyone familiar with the classic Gaslight will catch on fairly quickly to the basic plot. Alison Courtland (Colbert) is being victimized by her philandering husband (low key and monotoned Don Ameche) who wants her locked up in the loony bin so he can live happily ever after with his lover Daphne, (sultry Hazel Brooks in a text book femme fatale role) a wicked city woman who works in a photo studio and likes to parade around in flimsy negligees. Joining in this conspiracy to drive poor Alison out of her mind are Daphne's sinister photographer boss (menacing George Coulouris) and his mousy ill-informed wife (ubiquitous character actress Queenie Smith turning in another sharp portrait). Raymond Burr also makes a brief appearance in two scenes as a police detective.
|Grace Vernay (Smith) finds a gun in Alison's purse|
|Charles Vernay (Coulouris) insulted once again by his negligee clad employee Daphne (Brooks)|
|Alison wonders what happened to the butler in her shadow filled home|
|Dick and Daphne drink, dance and deceive (Daphne wears her only dress in this scene)|
|Alison compares her husband to Bruce (Cummings) in a moment of drunken candidness|
The addition of two comic characters - Barby and Bruce - provide the story with a welcome breezy humor. Barby (Rita Johnson) is a mile-a-minute talker typical of the screwball comedies of the 1940s. She is the daffy urbane socialite so often found on screen but never in real life. Her part exists purely for laughs and Johnson does it extremely well - much better than Billie Burke might have done. Robert Cummings as Bruce is the playboy we know will be Colbert's savior. He has an easy suave nature, a charming city wit, and the brains to see through the scheming husband's plot at the very last minute.
The strangest sequence in the film seems like it belongs in another movie. While Dick and Daphne are slumming and scheming in a local dive Alison and Bruce go on an adventure. Bruce has come to New York to be best man in his business partner's wedding and asks Alison as his date. Turns out the wedding is in Chinatown and his business partner is played by Keye Luke (Number One Son in the Charlie Chan flicks). With music provided by a Chinese string ensemble squeaking and whining in the background Alison proceeds to get delightfully drunk on Asian wine. The wedding reception turns into a series of bits lifted from a romantic comedy with Colbert showing off her exceptional comic acting skills then slowly confessing her dissatisfaction in her troubled marriage. Later Bruce tries to chauffeur the new bride and groom to their hotel in a well known resort, but Alison's misadventures at the hands of her murderous husband interfere. It's an odd sequence played for laughs that seems very out of place in a film that spends much of its time building up a brooding and menacing atmosphere.
The framing and composition throughout the movie is hypnotic. You can't turn away for a minute lest you miss some artistic choices like those shown above. The way the teacup with the drugged hot chocolate can be seen so ominously in the foreground while Dick's soothing voice puts Alison's fears at ease. Or how Daphne holds court (once again in a sexy nightie) in the photo studio while Dick in a passive position looks up at her completely under her seductive power. The use of light and shadow in the nightmarish murder attempt scenes, the perfectly rendered sound effects like Coulouris running his fingernails creepily along the fabric of an upholstered chair, the brilliant use of the Queensboro Bridge as a backdrop for the nocturnal bedroom scenes, and the rousing finale complete with a shootout and pursuit up a staircase to the rooftop - they're all wonderful touches that show Douglas Sirk to be a true cinema artist.
Sleep, My Love is available via the Netflix streaming option or the entire film in a restored print (and not fragmented into parts) can be viewed for free at YouTube here.
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