DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A DOUBLE LIFE (director: George Cukor; screenwriter: Ruth Gordon/Garson Kanin; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Robert Parrish; music: Miklos Rosza; cast: Ronald Colman (Tony John), Signe Hasso (Brita), Edmond O'Brien (Bill Friend), Shelley Winters (Pat Kroll), Ray Collins (Victor Donlan), Philip Loeb (Max Lasker), Millard Mitchell (Al Cooley, newspaper man), Betsy Blair (Sting actress), William Bailey (Detective), Elmo Lincoln (Detective); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Kanin; Artisan; 1947)

 
"Ronald Colman won a Best Actor Oscar for his ornate and hammy performance as an obsessed matinee-idol stage actor cracking up before our eyes."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ronald Colman won a Best Actor Oscar for his ornate and hammy performance as an obsessed matinee-idol stage actor cracking up before our eyes. It was George Cukor's ("The Philadelphia Story") first and only foray into film noir, and the film's high-toned art concept proves to be perfectly suited for the talented director. The melodrama meticulously re-creates the theatrical world but when it veers into B-film territory and murder, it shows its weaknesses. It was the first of Cukor's many successful collaborations with the husband and wife team of screenwriters Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. Miklos Rosza offers a stimulating score. The chilling chiaroscuro cinematography by Milton Krasner adds much to the disturbing psychological mood set, but the high concept tone gets shot down with a prosaic Shelley Winters' abysmal performance as the pedestrian waif waitress. 

Tony John (Ronald Colman) is a gifted stage actor, who is such a complex person that few people know him really well. Though he and his actress ex-wife of two years Brita (Signe Hasso) are still in love they have no plans to remarry because of his personality defect. Brita tells their shared publicist Bill Friend (Edmond O'Brien) that Tony becomes so wound up by the roles he plays that if he's in a comedy his personal life is gay, but when playing Chekov together the couple divorced. Tony's agent after the hit comedy A Gentleman's Gentleman, Max Lasker (Philip Loeb), convinces him to play Othello with Brita playing Desdemona. The play is a hit and runs for two years on Broadway, but the pressures build in the tortured actor as during every performance he has to strangle his wife to death because of his jealousy. 

During the time he took the role in Othello, Tony becomes involved with the pathetically lonely waitress Pat Kroll (Shelley Winters) he met in the Italian restaurant he dines at. Tony seeks comfort playing Othello to an unsuspecting Pat, while he falsely becomes jealous that the publicist is romancing his ex-wife. Acting strangely around her and reciting the lines from the play, Tony gets carried away and chokes Pat to death. Bill uses the newspaper headline story of the unsolved murder as publicity for the play, and Tony goes bonkers at Bill for using such a cheap-trick to get publicity. But this angry attack arouses his suspicion, and helped by investigating homicide detectives they close in on Tony and set a trap for him. It leads to a grand finale on stage to bring things to a just end.

Though flawed, it nevertheless remains compelling as a sort of a curiously tempered high-brow film noir.

REVIEWED ON 2/3/2007        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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