Priam Farrel is a celebrated artist but a social recluse. When his valet dies of a sudden illness, a mix-up leads to the body being identified as Farrel's. The timid artist then assumes the...
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Priam Farrel is a celebrated artist but a social recluse. When his valet dies of a sudden illness, a mix-up leads to the body being identified as Farrel's. The timid artist then assumes the identity of his former servant, but finds himself faced with constant dilemmas as a result.Written by
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film. See more »
HIS DOUBLE LIFE (Paramount, 1933), directed by Arthur Hopkins, returns silent screen legend Lillian Gish to motion pictures for the first time since her talking debut in ONE ROMANTIC NIGHT (United Artists, 1930). Taking second billing under Roland Young, whose character is the main focus, this light comedy, taken from the novel "Buried Alive," and play "Great Adventure" by Arnold Bennett, is an interesting curio at best. Containing some witty elements in the style of director, Ernst Lubitsch, best known for sophisticated comedies with European settings, as much as it tries, really cannot compare to the Ernst "Lubitsch touch."
The plot development opens at an art gallery in England where numerous spectators gather around admiring the works of Priam Farrel, the world's most renowned English painter. Attending the gallery are Farrel's first cousin, Duncan (Montagu Love) with his little boy ("Yes, Poppa"), various critics, and spinster, Alice Chalice (Lillian Gish), whose connection with Farrel is through her corresponding letters with his personal secretary, Henry Leek (Roland Hogue), having found her through The Matrimonial Times magazine. As the story progresses, Priam Farrel (Roland Young) is described as a talented but very reclusive, shy artist seen by few. While at a social function in Spain, Priam finds himself unwittingly engaged to Lady Helen (Audrey Ridgewell). Wanting to break away from his forthcoming marriage, he and Leek seek refuge at his London residence of 91 Seawood Terrace. As Leek arranges a time and date for his initial meeting with Miss Chalice at the Grand Babylon Hotel, the unthinkable happens, Leek acquires a sudden case of pneumonia, dying in his master's bedroom where he was placed and cared for by Farrel. Mistaken for Leek by the doctors, an identity crisis ensues. Forced to leave the apartment by his cousin, Duncan, whom he hasn't seen since he was 12, Farrel, with no place to go, takes up residence at the Grand Babylon Hotel. Upon his arrival, he's approached by the awaiting Alice, believing him to be Leek, based on the photo given to her of Farrel and Leek standing together through Leek's most recent letter. Regardless of Farrel's fear of people, he becomes very relaxed with Alice. A courtship soon develops, leading to their marriage. While Priam does reveal his true identity to Alice, he is not believed but goes on loving him just the same. During his newfound life for which he describes as "having died and gone to Heaven," "Leek" resumes his pleasure of painting after his funds run out. After Alice sells some of them to art collector, Oxford (Lumsden Hare), he immediately recognizes the Farrel style to them, very much convinced that Farrel is alive. When this news reaching the world, Farrel's double life takes a dramatic turn through a series of complications as an unexpected visitation from Leek's wife (Lucy Beaumont) with twin adult nitwit sons (Oliver Smith and Philip Tonge) claiming bigamy, followed by a courtroom fiasco.
A wholesome story filmed previously in the silent era as GREAT ADVENTURE (First National, 1920) starring Lionel Barrymore and Doris Rankin, HIS DOUBLE LIFE is often bypassed by it's classified improved remake of HOLY MATRIMONY (20th Century-Fox, 1943) featuring Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields. What makes HIS DOUBLE LIFE worthy of consideration is its fine presence by Lillian Gish. Seldom working in comedy, Gish's performance is not of madcap sense but that of sophisticated manner, and she's quite good. Becoming the "perfect wife" during the film's second half comes as a reminder of Myrna Loy's character trait title she acquired after 1934 based on the "Thin Man" series. Gish performs well opposite the droll Roland Young, some years before becoming immortalized as "Topper" in three Hal Roach feature comedies later in the thirties.
Produced at Paramount's Astoria Studios in New York, circulating prints, either on late night presentations on public television or home video that began in the early 1980s, are usually taken from reissues with Atlantic Pictures as its distributor. Though the film suffers from occasional slow pacing in the tradition of a 1930 talkie, it makes one wonder if the film might have worked better under the direction of either a George Cukor or Ernst Lubitsch? While the slow pacing can be overlooked, the abrupt cuts found in numerous public domain video and TV presentations scenes cannot. Two scenes of mention worth noting: Priam Farrel's attempt to retrieve his lost hat in a crowded building, followed by immediate cut of him reading a newspaper; the second, a highlight, as Farrel attends his own funeral lead by his burial at Westminster Abby. This is introduced by the full view of the church, followed by close-up of Farrel in the middle of spectators, split second view of he going upstairs, then observing the funeral from above, to suddenly create a disturbance by crying out multiple times, "I had no idea," before being escorted out. Aside from these choppy scenes, the music soundtrack appears to be out of sync. Fortunately, a more accurate print does exist in the DVD presentation from Alpha Video. While underscoring is limited throughout, it's used extensively in comedic form during the climatic courtroom sequence. Unfortunately, this doesn't come off hilariously as anticipated.
Overall, HIS DOUBLE LIFE can be satisfactory entertainment in the old-fashioned sense of how two lonely people become united through a twist of fate. (**1/2 canvases)
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