A Double Life

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: George Cukor

REVIEWED: 02-23-99

Actors have a tendency to be a little eccentric, even downright unstable sometimes; some become moreso than others. Tony John (Colman) is a stage thespian who is as fond of the broad gesture and booming voice offstage as on. He's been in the business for so long that he is having trouble distinguishing his own persona from the roles he plays in the theatre; his ex-wife Brita (Hasso) still works with him on amicable terms, though she can no longer stand being married to him. He accepts a role as Othello, to rave reviews; his portrayal of the murderous Moor keeps audiences spellbound night after night, but soon it begins to spill over into his personal life. He goes to a seedy Italian restaurant where he strikes up an acquaintance with waitress Pat (sex-bomb Winters, in her first film role); she invites him back to her apartment and ultimately to her bed. As John's personality disintegrates, he rambles on rain-soaked streets at night until he returns inevitably to Pat's apartment, where he replays Othello's strangling "kiss of death" on her, bellowing Shakespeare all the while. When the coroner (the always-familiar Whit Bissell) tells the story to the press, press agent Bill Friend (O'Brien) turns it around to garner more publicity for the play. John flies into a rage, imagines an affair between Friend and Brita, and tries to strangle Friend. Soon Friend realizes that there's more to the publicity stunt than he thought, and suspicion turns to Tony John for the murder. Colman supplies the perfect measure of ham-sammich theatrical mannerisms in his splenetic rendition of Othello on- and offstage; he's really a fairly pompous, insufferable character and it's no surprise his wife left him. The script was co-written by Garson Kanin and wife Ruth Gordon, who were able to bring their knowledge of the rarefied world of drama to bear on the story. Once Tony John begins to go over the edge, nearly every shot is an expressionistic metaphor for his mental state, as he shifts between lucidity and bizarre histrionics. A Double Life is an unusually intelligent, literate noir that is a classy departure from the pulpy "B" atmospherics often associated with the genre. Keep an eye out for Paddy Chayefsky and John Derek in minuscule bit parts.

--Jerry Renshaw

Other Films by George Cukor
Dinner at Eight

Film Vault Suggested Links
Playing God
Mean Streets

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