"Gaslight (1940 version) has a sharp awareness of the pressures of English class and manners, which heightens the cruelty. The servants are always present as an audience for the persecuting husband to play to, sharpening the wife's humiliation as he deliberately drives her mad. Dickinson, who was brought on to the project at three weeks' notice, introduced details he remembered from the Victorian households in which he'd grown up, and insisted on shooting in sequence on a closed set. Among the film's admirers is Stephen Fry, who recently singled it out as a favourite: "Human angst, madness, evil - true evil, love, disappointment: all the great emotions are there - but constrained, which makes them all the more powerful."" ~Quote Link
The term gaslighting originated from this film. The character Paul uses the gas lamps in the closed off upper floors which causes the rest of the lamps in the house to dim slightly; when Bella comments on the lights' dimming, she is told she is imagining things. Bella is persuaded she is hearing noises, unaware that Paul enters the upper floors from the house next door. The sinister interpretation of the change in light levels is part of a larger pattern of deception to which the character Bella is subjected. It is revealed Paul is a bigamist, in reality he is the wanted Louis Bower, who wished to return to the house in order to recover valuable and famous rubies he was unable to find after the murder.
MGM reportedly tried to suppress release of the 1940 film in the United States, even to the point of trying to destroy the negative, so that it would not compete with their more publicized 1944 film
The term derives from the 1938 stage play Gas Light (originally known as Angel Street in the United States), and the 1940 and 1944 film adaptations. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to drive his wife to insanity by manipulating small elements of their environment, and insisting that she is mistaken or misremembering when she points out these changes. The title stems from the husband's subtle dimming of the house's gas lights, which she accurately notices and which the husband insists she's imagining.
Gaslighting has been used colloquially since at least the late 1970s to describe efforts to manipulate someone's sense of reality. In a 1980 book on child sex abuse, Florence Rush summarized George Cukor's 1944 film version of Gas Light, and writes, "even today the word [gaslight] is used to describe an attempt to destroy another's perception of reality."
Jacobson and Gottman report that some physically abusive husbands may gaslight their wives, even flatly denying that they have used violence.
Psychologists Gass and Nichols use the term gaslighting to describe a dynamic observed in some cases of marital infidelity:
"Male therapists may contribute to the women's distress through mislabeling the women's reactions. The gaslighting behaviors of the husband provide a recipe for the so-called 'nervous breakdown' for some women [and] suicide in some of the worst situations."
The Manson Family, during their "creepy crawler" burglaries of the late 1960s, would enter homes and steal nothing, but would rearrange furniture to upset and confuse residents.