Ronald Coleman gives an academy award winning performance as an actor who increasingly cannot separate his roles from reality with murderous results.
Double Life, A
Directors: George Cukor
Producers: Michael Kanin
Writers: Ruth Gordon And Garson Kanin
Features: Full Screen Version, B&W, Digitally Mastered From The Original Film Negative, 2.0 Dolby Stereo Surround, Scene Selects And English Closed Captioning.
Tony John...Ronald Coleman
Brita Kaurin...Signe Hasso
Bill Friend...Edmund O'Brien
Max Lasker...Phillip Loeb
Pat Kroll...Shelly Winters
Victor Donlan...Ray Collins
Some people take their work home with them. Other people become their work. That is the issue "A Double Life" addresses. Most average Joes can't shut their work selves off when they leave work. Whether because their home life is uninteresting to them or they are uninteresting to others the 'on' button is never turned off. If in some cases the button is turned off then that person may find themselves morose and unhappy with their environment. That person will eagerly anticipate the beginning of the next work day. This is Tony John's dilemma. He is unhappy with himself if he is not acting in a play, yet he realizes that he becomes so enwrapped in his role that he sometimes cannot shut himself off. This black and white film made in 1948 earned Ronald Coleman an academy award for best actor in his role of Tony John. The film's score by Miklos Rozsa also won an academy award. This movie had the director George Cukor("The Philadelphia Story") along with the screenwriters, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, receive academy award nominations.
Tony John is first seen on a giant posterboard being unloaded on a New York street from a truck. The posterboard is taken into a playhouse where it passes by another large poster on a wall of Tony John with a man standing with his back to the camera looking up at it. The man turns around to reveal it is Tony John with a cigarette in his hand. He passes out of the theater with stage hands greeting him amicably and he likewise. On the street he runs into two women he knows and flirts with them briefly. Then he is in the office of his agent, Max Lasker(Phillip Loeb), who is urging him to take on the lead role in "Othello" in an upcoming Shakespearean play. Lasker wants Tony to stretch himself, but Tony worries about enveloping himself in that role. That is why he has stayed with lightweight plays. Next, a director named Victor Donlan played by Ray Collins of Perry Mason's Lt. Tragg fame comes in and and joins Lasker in trying to get Tony to do "Othello." Wavering, Tony discusses it with his ex-wife, who still acts like his wife, about doing the play since she always plays opposite him and would be Desdemona. She warns how he will never leave his character of Othello at midnight. With all these obvious admonitions in front of him, Tony decides to go ahead anyway and do "Othello," a play about a jealous husband who strangles his wife for perceived marital trespasses.
Originally the role of Tony John was written with Lawrence Olivier in mind. He was unable to take the role which was offered to Cary Grant who also turned it down. Finally Ronald Coleman took it even though, like Tony John, he had played light roles until this film. Coleman was so nervous about the undertaking of playing Othello that a theatrical director was brought in to be on the set and coach him. Cukor shot all the "Othello" parts one after the other in order to make it easier for Coleman.
The style of acting in "A Double Life" may seem overly dramatic to current viewers, especially the parts dealing with the play of "Othello." That was the acting style of that time which was adapted from theater acting. Ronald Coleman had a broad forehead with very expressive eyes which he used to great avail. The troubled soul within him can easily be seen in his face as he wrestles with the Othello personality that keeps wanting to dominate the longer the play runs. Shelly Winters stars as a sleazy waitress named Pat with whom Tony John has a brief affair. Shelly Winters plays her role in a matter of fact way as a girl that has seen and heard it all. Pat remarks to Tony, "I've handled lines all my life." Tony rejoins, "So do I!" and laughs a little crazily at his own joke. When Pat asks his name he replies that he doesn't know who he is because he has been too many characters.
Once again cigarette smoking is very prominent in this era's movies. The tobacco companies have always been rumored to have used influence to have actors shown smoking. Tony John is portrayed as a heavy smoker. In addition, when Tony John leaves the theater in one scene he walks by a tobacco shop which in those days sold tobacco products and periodicals of all kinds. Next he passes a huge ground level advertisement for Phillip Morris. This kind of subliminal influence is next used by the director to show Tony's state of mind when Tony is caught by the camera looking at an advertisement for travel to Venice, Italy where "Othello" takes place. Hitting the audience over the head, the director has Tony stop to eat at an Italian restaurant where he first meets Pat.
To show how words change over time, Tony's ex-wife, Brita(Signe Hasso), remarks "...when he's doing something gay like this." Later in the film, she says, "Let's go have a gay old time." In 1948 the word gay did not mean what it has come to be today.
The quality of this B&W print is very clear and detailed though dropouts appear here and there. The liner notes state that this film was digitally mastered from the original film negative. The sound in 2.0 dolby stereo surround is excellent and brings the award winning music to the forefront of the movie.
This film is rich in dialog and detailed camera work. The soundtrack is wonderful and I liked the use of the sound of the New York subway trains passing overhead to show Tony's attacks of dementia. This is a fine film from another era that viewers are urged to watch. My only complaint is that at times I thought the director was a little too heavy handed in giving clues to Tony's mindset.