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Imagination Against Reality
Leo-8617 May 1999
Ronald Colman gives an electrifying performance as Tony John, a Broadway actor who can't separate his offstage life from Shakespeare's Othello, the character he plays on stage....Two important scenes illustrate Tony's dilemma. The first one takes place in producer Max Lasker's office. Acting is a matter of talent for the practical-minded Lasker. But Donlan, Tony's friend, disagrees: "No, no. When you do it like Tony does it, it's much more. The way he has of becoming someone else every night...so completely. No, don't tell me his whole system isn't affected by it."....The other scene occurs in waitress Pat Kroll's apartment. Tony tells her his name is Martin. She thanks him. Then he says: "Or Paul. Hamlet. Joe. And maybe Othello."....When Tony begins rehearsing Othello, we learn that though he's trying to keep his real life separated from his stage life, "The part begins to seep into your life, and the battle begins. Reality against imagination." He can't keep the two separated: In his mind Pat is Desdemona and he's Othello, and he wrongly believes she has been unfaithful to him. He murders her....Colman's bravura performance, in a complex and difficult role, earned him 1947's Academy Award for Best Actor. Oscar nominations went to Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin for Best Original Screenplay. Not to be overlooked is Milton Krasner's atomspheric cinematography.
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Jealousy Self Induced
bkoganbing29 February 2008
I like my Ronald Colman dashing and debonair, the fellow you see in such films as If I Were King and Kismet. I like him as the epitome of civilization as in The Lost Horrizon and Random Harvest. A brooding Colman isn't a favorite of mine.

But in A Double Life precisely because his part as actor Anthony John is so offbeat for him, Colman was recognized with a Best Actor Oscar for 1947. It became his best known part.

Colman is an actor who really does take the Method quite seriously. He's just finished a successful run in a comedy of manners and he's quite the jovial fellow. For a change of pace now that that play has concluded its Broadway run, Colman is bringing a revival of Othello to New York. About as opposite a part as you can get.

His leading lady in both is his former wife Signe Hasso who loves him dearly, but can't take his change of moods when he's at work. Colman loves her dearly as well and wants her back. But he's heading for a mental breakdown when he starts confusing himself with the jealous Moor Othello and Hasso with her role as Desdemona.

Unfortunately Shelley Winters as a poor waitress who a depressed Colman picks up gets in the way of his madness and she winds up like poor Desdemona in the play. Killed in the same manner and now it's a matter for homicide cop Joe Sawyer.

Colman's performance is so good that one does kind of wonder is this an occupational hazard with actors? I'd shudder to think so, were there any unsolved homicides in or around Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles then they essayed Othello.

I could never quite buy the story for that reason, but I certainly do applaud Ronald Colman and what he did with the part. I'm sure there was a tinge of regret in him winning the Oscar though because one of the other nominees was his good friend William Powell for Life With Father. Others in the running that year were Gregory Peck for Gentlemen's Agreement, John Garfield for Body and Soul, and Michael Redgrave for Mourning Becomes Electra.

Colman gets able support from the rest of the cast including Edmond O'Brien who finds himself in the unwanted part of Cassio in Colman's jealous fantasy. Still you will find no Iago equivalent in A Double Life, no one prodding the jealousy, it's all in his own mind.

And that from one of the most cultivated and civilized minds of the last century.
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Dark, Brooding Drama
harry-767 December 2002
Just the mention of playing role of Othello makes Ronald Coleman's Anthony John start hallucinating. Triggered by this project suggestion, Anthony finds himself murmuring lines from Shakespeare's tragedy while walking down the street alone and sitting by himself in restaurants.

Anthony's total commitment to his craft of fantasy, unfortunately, takes a deadly toll on his private life. Signe Hasso's Brita understands this, and instantly fears for her ex-husband's--now co-star's--happiness.

Here's a modern tragedy, scripted by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, of an actor who just couldn't leave his role at the stage door.

"When the actor starts believing he's the character he's playing, that's the time to fire him," remains a wise theatre management adage.

It's a darned good principle, too.

When the actor fails to maintain an "invisible wall" between himself and his co-actors, that's the time for some concern. Although practioners of the Stanislavsky tradition may achieve great "truth" in their work, they may not realize that this achievement is more "relative" than "absolute" and can become a "double edged-sword."

Anthony John's "character-absorption" tendency, while earning him a "great performance," conversely yields a decidedly unconstructive home life. Unless the actor finds some kernels of project idealism to enhance his personal development, the entire enterprise may be negligible.

Milton Krasner's dark cinematography and Miklos Rozsa's dissonant score supports George Cukor's pessimistic direction. Likewise, Walter Hampden's advisement for the "Othello" sequences adds authenticity to the Shakespearian flavor.

In the end, we have a shattering drama, holding within its fold a grave thespian caution: "it's only a character being played, not real life."

For his fine work as Anthony John, Coleman received an Academy Award.
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Even after 45 years still great
gmcdouga-125 May 2004
I stumbled on this late last night n TCM.

Hadn't seen it since it came out originally, but had never forgotten it.

I had completely forgotten how gorgeous and talented Signe Hasso was when she was still young, ditto for Shelly Winters before she balooned out.

Ronald Coleman, though, was the quintessential state actor of his time - I had read Othello in high school English - and HATED it. After seeing "A Double Life" I read it again and finally understood what the play was about.

The Gordon/Kanin writing team was at its peak when this script was done -

A movie well worth remembering and rewatching,
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Colman's finest hour...gripping performances...
Doylenf22 January 2002
There is an atmospheric film noir quality to A DOUBLE LIFE and one that is so fitting for the kind of story it tells. Ronald Colman is an actor who becomes obsessed with his role when playing Othello and goes off the deep end. He does his role so convincingly that it is almost frightening to see him in the grip of his delusions--a Jekyll and Hyde sort of transformation takes over when his dark side emerges. A brilliant performance and he's surrounded by excellent supporting players, notably Shelley Winters in one of her earliest roles as a dumb waitress. Signe Hasso and Edmond O'Brien are fine too. Her fear of Colman's manic state looks genuine as he looms over her figure on the bed, preparing to strangle her.

Not the sort of film you'd expect George Cukor to direct but he does it well with only occasional slow stretches in a story that could have been more tightly controlled with too much repetition in the stage scenes. Brooding and absorbing with a fine background score by Miklos Rozsa. Colman's Oscar-winning performance makes it well worth seeing.
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One of the great movies of all time
viswanat-13 June 2009
When an actor has to play the role of an actor, fictional or factual, the task becomes much more difficult than playing a role. In A Double Life,Ronald Coleman surpassed himself as Anthony John, the tortured double personality. He put into that character all his talent and sincerity. The facial expressions, mannerisms,gait and stance spoke eloquently of what Anthony John was going through while playing Othello on stage. Coleman also did extremely well as a Shakespearean actor in those short scenes as Othello that were part of this gem of a movie. Closups of Coleman's face as Othello tortured by doubts about the fidelity of Desdemona were in themselves scenes worth watching.Add to that, his character's off stage desperation and only someone with Coleman's depth of acting perception can achieve. It was like watching Spenser Tracy as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, except this double role was much more profound and poignant. Shelly Winters looked so sweet, vulnerable and gorgeous at the same time and added her talent to the movie. It is believed that Ronald Coleman liked his role in this film above all others he played and went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor in 1947. I would see this movie repeatedly and never feel bored.
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Ronald Colman stars as the obsessed thespian who takes his work seriously.
Steve-31820 January 2001
If you like "Othello," you'll love this flick since half the movie revolves around the stage production of the play.

The film has a great cast with Signe Hasso and Shelley Winters as the women in Colman's life while Edmond O'Brien plays the enterprising press agent.

A couple of the supporting players I particularly liked were Millard Mitchell as the grizzled reporter who finds an angle and Joe Sawyer, the 1940's answer to Drew Carey, who plays the cop on the case.

Great raw moments in this one with noir realism throughout.
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A Double Life
Coxer999 July 1999
Colman gives one of his greatest performances of his career and won an Academy Award as a Shakesperean actor whose off stage life imitates his theater role of Othello where he kills a woman he believes to be Desdemona. Electrifying suspense, laced with crackling dialogue and melodrama. Winters, in one of her earliest roles, is divine as the victim of Colman's madness. This film gives new meaning to the phrase "disappearing into a character."
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The Tragedy of Anthony John, Actor of New York City
theowinthrop30 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A DOUBLE LIFE has developed a mystique among film fans for two reasons: the plot idea of an actor getting so wrapped up into a role (here Othello) as to pick up the great flaw of that character and put it into his life; and that this is the film that won Ronald Colman the Academy Award (as well as the Golden Globe) as best actor. Let's take the second point first.

Is Anthony John Colman's greatest role, or even his signature role? I have my doubts on either level - but it is among his best known roles. Most of his career, Ronald Colman played decent gentlemen, frequently in dangerous or atypical situations. He is Bulldog Drummond (cleaned up in the Goldwyn production not to be an arrogant racist) fighting crime. He is Raffles, the great cricket player and even greater burglar, trying to pull off his best burglary to save a friend's honor. He is Robert Conway, the great imperial political figure, who is kidnapped and brought to that paradise on earth, Shangri-La. He is Dick Heldar, manfully going to his death after he learns his masterpiece has been destroyed and knowing he is now blind and useless as an artist. I can add Sidney Carton and Rudolf Rassendyll to this list. But here he is not heroic. In fact he is unconsciously villainous - he murders one person and nearly kills two others. It does not matter that he is obviously mentally ill - his behavior here is anti-social.

To me Colman should have gotten the Oscar for Heldar, or Carton, or Conway - all more typical of his acting roles. But the Academy has a long tradition of picking atypical roles for awarding it's treasure to it's leading members. Colman's Anthony John is a very good performance, and at one point truly scary. When alone with Signe Hasso in her home, she at the top of a staircase and him at the base, they have an argument. She demands that "Tony" leave, saying she won't see him. He stares at her, his face oddly hardening in a way he never used before, and he says, "Oh, no you won't!" He starts moving upstairs, frightening Hasso, and she runs into her room. He stops himself and leaves. It actually is the real highpoint of his performance - even more than his assaulting of Hasso on stage, or of Edmond O'Brien, or his killing of Shelley Winters. It showed his blind fury. For that moment it was (to me) an Oscar-worthy performance. But it is only that moment. I'm glad he was recognized for the role, but he should have gotten the award for a more consistent performance.

His actual performance in the Shakespearian role of Othello is not great, but bearable. Too frequently he lets the dialog roll off his tongue in a kind of forced singing style (one wonders if that was due to the coaching of Walter Hampden, who probably knew how to handle the role properly, or a reaction to it). Nowadays "Othello" is played by an African American actor more frequently than a white one. Paul Robeson's brilliant performance in the role set that new tradition firmly into place. But the three best known movie performances of the part are those of Colman, Orson Welles in his movie of OTHELLO, and Laurence Olivier in his movie of his play production of OTHELLO. All three white actors did the role in black face. My personal favorite of the three is Welles, who seems the most subtle. But even watching Welles' fine film version makes me angry that Robeson never got to put his performance (with Jose Ferrer as Iago) on film.

Now the first question - can an actor get that wrapped up in a role? I heard different things about this. Some actors have admitted taking a role home with them from the theater or movie set. Others have found a role they have to be stimulating, influencing them on a new cause of action regarding their lives or some aspect of life. But actually I have never heard of anyone who turned homicidal as the result of a role. It seems a melodramatic, hackneyed idea.

As a matter of fact it was not a new idea in 1947 with Cukor, Kanin, and Gordon. In 1944 a "B" feature, THE BRIGHTON STRANGLER, starring John Loder, had used a similar plot about an actor who is playing an infamous "Jack the Ripper" type, and who starts committing those type of killings after an accident affects his mind. There was an earlier movie in the 1930s, in which an actor playing Othello gets jealous of his wife (I think the title was MEN ARE NOT GODS, but I'm not sure). But due to Colman's name and career, and Cukor's directing, it is A DOUBLE LIFE that people think of when they recall this plot idea. It even reached comedy (finally) on an episode of CHEERS, where Diane Chambers is helping an ex-convict who may have acting talent, and they put on OTHELLO at the bar, just after he sees her with Sam Malone kissing. Only Diane is aware of the personality problem of the ex-convict, and can't delay the production long enough (she tries to start a discussion into the history and symbolism of the play).

The cast of A DOUBLE LIFE was first rate, and Cukor's direction was as sure as ever. So the film is definitely worth watching. But despite giving Colman an interestingly different role, it was not his best work on the screen.
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Janus Plus Othello
artihcus0221 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
One of George Cukor's greatest films and one of the best films ever made about acting.

Anticipating films as diverse as ''Opening Night'' and ''Raging Bull'', Cukor's film deals with the loneliness at the heart of the performance arts, with insecurity and jealousy, as well as a cutting examination of our thin hold on reality. Like Cassavetes and Scorsese, the viewing experience of the film is very physical and tough on the audience.

Anthony John(Ronald Colman) is a respected and admired thespian on Broadway. He stars regularly alongside his ex-wife but still very much committed live-in girlfriend, Brita(Signe Hasso). Their relationship which endures both a marriage and a divorce is hampered by Tony John's extreme commitment to his acting, the ability with which he becomes his characters hampers his sense of reality and enters his private life. This comes to the front tragically when he undertakes the role of Othello with Brita as his Desdemona and performs the part for two years non-stop. Othello's rage and insecurity feeds on his own insecurity at his press-agent Bill(Edmond O'Brien), who has a thinly disguised attraction to Brita. His attempts to escape it involve an affair with a waitress(Shelley Winters) and a constant battle with his own mind to hold on to his sanity.

The baroque Pirandellian plot of this film is an ultimate test on the actors. Ronald Colman more than deserves one of the few just Oscar victories for his performance. It's a performance on a big scale and he more than commands the screen. A great example is the first performance as Othello. After an exceptional montage of theater rehearsals where we see Tony slowly creating his character we see the death of Desdemona scene on-stage and the acting is so natural that we actually see Othello and not Tony John act as Othello. Signe Hasso is very good as Brita showing an intelligence and sexuality to her part. Edmon O'Brien on the other hand is a real surprise. Aided by a great script, he reveals new details about a dramatically conventional character in each scene.

George Cukor made ''A Double Life'' independently through Garson Kanin's production company. Kanin who was Cukor's lifelong friend and frequent collaborator also wrote the script, which was undoubtedly influenced from his own experiences on Broadway. As a result it's much tougher and sober than other Cukor films made at studios, also showing a more direct take on sexuality. Cukor's direction of this film is totally against the grain of people who see him as a theatrically oriented film-maker. The visual style shows a rich use of black-and-white and chiaroscuro reflected through window-blinds that is associated with Film Noir(to which it qualifies as a decidedly outré example). But the classic Cukor mise-en-scene, the movement in-and-out of frame, the blocking and cutting immediately shows his personal stamp on every frame of the film.

This is one of his richest and most personal films although atypical as per his image. Cukor is often associated with a lightness that's totally absent here, with sophisticated humour and wit. Yet ''A Double Life'' picks up from ''Gaslight'' which also dealt with insanity by adduced-illusions and paves the way for ''A Star is Born''. The press scenes here are a dry run for the latter film. It's also one of the many films Cukor made on actors, dealing with acting including ''Born Yesterday'', ''The Actress'', ''Sylvia Scarlett'', ''My Fair Lady'' and many others. A work of art from a true master.
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Imagination and Reality
claudio_carvalho12 September 2009
The successful middle-aged Broadway actor Anthony "Tony" John (Ronald Colman) is a dedicated lonely professional that still loves his former wife Brita (Signe Hasso). They are playing Othello for almost two years and Tony has a breakdown, beginning to lose his mind and sense of reality, confusing his identity with his characters. One night, he meets the waitress Pat Kroll (Shelley Winters) in a distant bar and he spends the night with the easy woman. Then he proposes Brita, who is his best friend, but she refuses to marry him again triggering a jealousy process against their friend Bill (Edmond O'Brien). Tony decides to visit Pat late night and in an insanity process, he lives the situation of Othello killing Desdemona. The police arrest a suspect but Bill wants to prove that Tony is responsible for the murder.

Despite the great performance of Ronald Colman, "A Double Life" is an overrated movie with a boring story. First, the situation of a successful actor that loses his identity and blends imagination with reality is hard to believe. Second, Tony's personality and character are very confused and not well-developed; last but not the least, Bill trying to prove that Tony is responsible for the murder is despicable and silly. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "Fatalidade" ("Fatality")
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Certainly a hidden gem.....
dmkuehn13 March 2001
I was astonished at how good this picture was - Ronald Colman's scenery chewing was great, as well as the script and all supporting performances, as well as it being one of George Cukor's better but least seen works. It is a very disquieting film, almost in a Hitchcockian sort of way, and perhaps that accounts for its obscurity. Besides, an early Shelley Winters film is all right by me (carumba!) Hopefully you can find a better print than the one I saw on cable which looked like it was culled from a 16mm positive. C'mon, film preservationists, get on it!
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An actor walks a thin line.
michaelRokeefe2 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
George Cukor directs a brooding and cynical classic. The distinctive Ronald Coleman is at his best in this piece of Noir about an actor who loses himself in his roles. The acclaimed Anthony John(Colman)has driven his wife Brita(Signe Hasso)away with his highly fueled temper and erratic behavior. But the two manage to continue working together to please their audiences. Things begin to change as John is becoming bored with his career; he reluctantly agrees to play Othello. He gets deep into character as a jealous and murderous man. He begins walking a thin line between illusion and reality and ends up confusing his role with his own life and eventually kills his mistress(Shelley Winters),but has no memory of the dastardly deed.

Colman seems faultless in this role. Winters is very impressive as the young woman determined to get away from her squalid life. Also in the cast: Edmond O'Brien, Ray Collins, Joe Sawyer and Whit Bissell.
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A DOUBLE LIFE (George Cukor, 1947) ***1/2
Bunuel197628 February 2009
A fondly-remembered melodrama – thanks chiefly to Ronald Colman's fine Oscar-winning central performance – about an oft-treated theme: the nature of acting and how it can overtake one's perception of reality. In this case, we have a well-known thespian tackling Shakespeare's "Othello", so that the film's last third delves effectively into the thriller genre – with press agent Edmond O'Brien (who happens to really be besotted with Colman's co-star and ex-wife Signe Hasso) 'investigating' the actor's possible involvement in the Desdemona-like strangling of a celebrity-seeking waitress (a very slim Shelley Winters). The theatrical/New York atmosphere of the immediate post-war era is vividly captured by the husband-and-wife screen writing team of Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon and legendary "actor's director" George Cukor (all of whom were recognized by the Academy with nominations); incidentally, the film nabbed a second Oscar for Miklos Rozsa's eclectic score. Colman, forever the suave leading man blessed besides with a velvety voice, does well enough by Shakespeare – gaining conviction the farther his character slips into obsessive jealousy, a murderous rage and, eventually, paranoia; however, he is not let down by a supporting cast which also includes director Ray Collins, reporter Millard Mitchell, detective Joe Sawyer and coroner Whit Bissell. Though the mid-section is a bit strained, the film makes up for any deficiencies with a remarkably-handled Expressionist denouement.
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Good old film noir with some cat & mouse at the end
porgiamor12 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Colman's performance is aided by the brilliantly written script. The gargantuan Hollywood studios in the 30's and 40's were able to copy some of the German expressionistic film elements and incorporate them into Hollywood films. very good use of shadows and light and silhouette. i really liked the scene where colman turns off the light in his dressing room near the beginning of the film, and he starts reciting Othello while his face becomes instantly dark and evil. already the viewer sees the text and the drama of Shakespeare getting a hold of "Tony" and off he goes on his journey of doom. i also enjoyed the dramatic death scene within the play, when he becomes overwrought with emotion and accidentally strangles his costar a little too hard for her to bear. her pleadings "tony stop you're hurting me" are chilling and suspenseful. you just don't know if he is going to go over the top and kill her at any moment. the cat and mouse chase to reveal the killer was nicely added 2/3rds of the way through the film to add some faster pacing and to also add to the narrative element of the film. Masterful work from George Cukor. He's such as skillful director. Excellent film. Too bad they don't make 'em like they used to...
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Jungle and Hyde
tedg8 September 2006
George Cukor, what a man. What a lesson here. Usually he takes it as his charter to get out of the way and let an actress (usually an actress) shine or more often to let the wheels of the studio machine turn.

This may be his most distinctively personal film. And its a gem of sorts.

Its from a time when actors put tremors into their lines and punctuating hesitations into their movements to denote gravitas. Its a tradition from 19th century Shakespearian productions, or at least became associated with them.

And going with this here is some very careful staging and blocking. Very, very highly composed, abstract and theatrical. Its worth watching because of the simple craft of the thing. Its excellently shaped.

But the story, and the way it weaves among all the production threads is quite special. And that is why I would like to recommend this to you.

The story is rather simple: an actor is intense, so intense that the personality of his characters tends to take over his own. The war between identities isn't a war at all; he just doesn't like himself, sees no sense in himself. His roles offer solidity, sense, so they color his world.

He gets talked into doing an Othello and the character takes over his life. Blackouts and all that. At this level, it is just another Jekyll and Hyde deal, and might have been as banal as the Spencer Tracy belch. But the blurring of what we see on stage and screen is blurred so effectively. In the way the actors carry themselves. In the lighting and even set dressing.

And in the story of course. His "real" wife/loving exwife is his Desdemona. There's a folding between her screen and stage characters. Lest we not be locked in that simple two-layer structure, we have her merged with a promiscuous waitress. Its really quite deft.

Underneath is another layer, overtly racist. That the moor is black is never mentioned, though of course he is dark makeup. But the idea (this is the 40's now) is that of all the characters he has played and whose possession he has mastered, this one overtakes him with an uncontrollable negroid passion. Its a notion explicit in many productions of Othello of course, and is played here.

Even though it is never mentioned in terms of humans, see how the notion is spoken. Four or five times a scene begins with the principle characters and then slides off into apparently random conversations of surrounding folks. Exclusively, the conversation is about the dangers of adding white stuff (milk or cream) to black stuff (coffee).

You might not even notice it, so deft is the introduction. Smooth and ghastly.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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It's your stomach..
AAdaSC2 September 2017
…says waitress Shelley Winters (Pat) in the funniest line from the film. She's a waitress that has a dalliance with esteemed stage actor Ronald Colman (Anthony). She looks slim in this film but as soon as you recognize her, it's pretty obvious about her fate. The film is about weirdo Colman losing his identity in the roles that he plays and so, of course, his next role is Othello where he gets to murder Desdemona every night. This is pretty obvious stuff.

The idea is fine but everything about the film can be anticipated, especially as it is told at such a snail's pace. Boring? Yep. Especially as they throw in huge segments of the actual Shakespearean performance of Othello. I didn't buy a film about the play but this is what you end up watching. You get huge irrelevant sections of the very boring play. The best version of the Othello death scene is done by the cast of Cheers. As this film seems to contain so much footage of the Othello performance, it is aptly relevant to review the Cheers performance as a comparison. Cheers does it way better!

There are some nice techniques employed in the film to convey Colman's madness but the story doesn't make any sense at all – from the initial idea of the actor going mad and losing his identity in his role, to the ludicrous relationship he has with ex-wife and fellow actress Signe Hasso (Brita), to the insultingly daft investigation into the killer being caught. The film, unfortunately, just drags even in spite of Whit Bissell turning up in a small role. I recommend you watch the Cheers episode instead of this for a much more realistic and funnier tale of a man being consumed by jealousy and acting out the Othello thing.
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Colman wins a long overdue Oscar
AlsExGal6 October 2012
Actor Tony Johns (Ronald Colman) gets wrapped up in every role he has on stage, at least since Brita (Signe Hasso) came into his life. At some point in the past, she got him to take his career seriously - advice he took a little too much to heart, the two married, and then divorced. Brita's encouragement resulted in Tony immersing himself in a role, which was OK when he was playing a comedy, but the darker the role the darker Tony John's alter-ego would get, which is what caused the divorce in the first place. When Tony Johns decides to play Othello, his darkest mood yet comes over him, focusing upon the jealousy he has for the relationship between his ex-wife and a journalist (Edmond O'Brien) who is in love with her.

Colman plays his role superbly as he is a complex villain with whom you can very much sympathize. Instead, woman-to-woman, it is Hasso's Brita that I would like to slap around in a room for about half an hour - she is leading an emotionally troubled man on and being a great big tease when, for her, the relationship is forever over. It's never clear why she still hangs around giving the guy hope and acting all lovey dovey when she's got to know how Tony still feels, plus she knows his trouble distinguishing reality from the plays in which he stars. If she's the accomplished actress she appears to be, she could get other roles and clear out of Tony's life, yet she just won't make a clean break of it and let the guy heal. Thus she's shocked...shocked I say!...when her "I'm just out of your reach" routine almost turns to murder one night with a confused and enraged Tony/Othello staggering off into the night saying "must..not...hurt...Brita". Who does he hurt? Watch and find out.

Although this was a great role for Colman and surely worthy of a Best Actor Oscar, he had so many other roles that were superb too. From the silent era, to his adventurous early sound years when his voice boosted his fame considerably, on to more serious roles in the later 30's and 40's, it's almost like the Academy wasn't sure what Colman's last film role would be and didn't want to lose an opportunity to reward him. This is one film I don't get tired of - it's one of my personal favorites. It has great performances by the entire cast, a couple of big names just starting out, Colman winding down in a superb film career and basically going out on top, and an atmosphere that fits the film's complex mood like a glove. Highly recommended.
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Dull and Melodramatic
kenjha9 April 2010
An unstable stage actor has trouble separating his roles from real life, leading to tragic consequences. Colman won an Oscar for this because this is the type of showy performance that the Academy loves. It is not the actor's best performance, although the problem may be with the role as written, of a silly Jekyll & Hyde personality. Hasso fares better as his long-suffering companion, and a slim Winters looks very nice as a waitress. It has good cinematography and score, but the script is dull, melodramatic, and contrived. Cukor doesn't help matters with his hammy direction. Too much screen time is devoted to scenes from "Othello," making the film quite tedious.
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The method to madness
Prismark1029 September 2016
A Double Life is an enthralling but hammy melodrama. It is regarded as a film noir but I never thought George Cukor was cut out for such type of pulpy film but it does have noirish elements.

Tony John (Ronald Colman) is a stage actor who lives his parts. Initially he is charming and urbane because he is presently playing a proper gent in a comedy.

His ex wife also an actress Brita (Signe Hasso) mentions how he got so wrapped up in his roles. They fell in love when they appeared in a comedy and got divorced when doing Chekov.

When Tony is persuaded to play Othello with Brita as Desdemona things slowly come to a head. The play is a hit but the Moor's jealousy, suspicion and rage start to come to a forefront in his personal life as each night he has to strangle his Desdemona. Tony John and Othello seem to merge as one personalities. He gets carried away with paranoia one night leading to murder.

The film does come across as heavy handed but director George Cukor also had a keen sense of making the theatre come alive as the actors step on to the stage with the bright lights blinding them.

Ronald Colman won an Oscar as the befuddled actor who is slowly losing his sanity and Shelly Winters is striking as the brassy waitress he picks up.
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Tough to Handle but for Colman's Performance
glgioia6 March 2004
Films like people age very differently from one another. Some are almost unwatchable due to the complete difficulty in sympathizing with outdated modes of thinking. The truly great films of course are timeless and leave you instead with a marvel for their wonderful freshness. Colman's Oscar winning portrayal of a stage actor who loses his grip on reality, while great to watch for the actor's work, is sadly wrapped inside of a rather poorly constructed film. None of it very believable, and the characters muster zero sympathy from us. The relationship lines are vague and confusing, and for the most part unimportant. The whole story is uncommonly weak, what you will remember most are the hammed up but effective scenes from Othello. Colman's genteel whisky cured voice, and aristocratic affectations you can tell are in him the genuine articles. He though also dated, is interesting to behold, and thought provoking as you get a feel for what was considered the best acting 60 years ago, and how different it is today. The film includes a couple of rather daring and explicit sexual innuendos, unusual for its time.
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Just Plain Unappealing
ccthemovieman-130 December 2006
Man, this gets a lot of good reviews in the review books. Frankly, I found it too slow and unappealing right from the start. I kept waiting for it to pick up a little steam but that never happened. This movie is vastly overrated.

Shakespeare, with the King James English, has never appealed to me, anyway, so it may just be me. There is a fair share of the latter in the first half of the film as they show Ronald Colman playing the role of Othello.

The good points of the film include - thanks to a restored print - some decent cinematography and a young, slim and attractive Shelly Winters.

Overall, this is simply too boring, too much repetition in some of the scenes to watch again. Besides, we all know that most actors are nut-cases, anyway, but kudos to Hollywood for demonstrating it here in this story.
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It gets better with repeated viewing
MartinHafer7 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Ronald Colman plays a famous Broadway actor who has begun to lose his mind and sense of identity. After years of playing a wide range of parts, he can't remember who he exactly is--who are his roles and who is the self. And, much more serious, he begins to see and hear his play even in regular everyday life. So, since he's currently playing in "Othello", he begins to act jealous and suspicious--just like the title character. Ultimately, it leads him to the depths of insanity and murder.

I saw this film years ago and liked it. I just saw it again and loved it. Now perhaps some of my enthusiasm is because I have always liked Ronald Colman and this is a great triumph for him--and for which he earned the Best Actor Oscar. And, looking at the competition that year (Gregory Peck for GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT, John Garfield for BODY AND SOUL, William Powell for LIFE WITH FATHER and Michael Redgrave for MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA), I think Colman was a very good choice, as he stretched from his usual comfort zone and did a much more demanding role.

Now I noticed that one reviewer hated this film because they hated Shakespeare--and this took up about half their review talking about their dislike for him. However, this film isn't really about Shakespeare, and it doesn't matter at all if you dislike Shakespeare. I am no huge fan of Shakespeare, but marveled at the small portions of the play that Colman re-enacted--though, as I said, this is NOT a really movie about Shakespeare. Instead, it's a wonderful portrait of an actor losing his mind and mixing his stage role with reality. It could have been ANY play, though "Othello" was an excellent choice because of the murder scene--which gets acted out for real later in the film.

Overall, a very clever film due to a lovely script--with some overtones of Film Noir. Fortunately, the acting was terrific also, as Colman had excellent support from Signe Hasso, Shelly Winters and Edmond O'Brien (who was particularly good--he played his part just right). And, considering the great George Cukor was directing, it's no wonder it's a wonderful film from start to finish.
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A double not-quite life
Spleen27 April 2002
I don't think that Ronald Colman's Best Actor Oscar was undeserved, exactly; but I do think it was misplaced. His performance doesn't succeed. Consider:

Anthony John is meant to be among the two or three greatest actors in the world. This alone means that Colman has his work cut out for him. Then there's the WAY in which Tony is meant to be great: he's meant to BECOME the people he plays on stage; that is, really adopt their psychological tendencies, and even their beliefs, as his own. (Stanislavsky claims that this is what all actors should do, but such claims are best taken either not seriously or not literally.)

But when we see Colman play John play Othello, he's holding back - or, what amounts to the same thing in context, hamming it up. It's as if Cukor was afraid that Anthony John's performance as Othello would outshine Ronald Colman's performance as Anthony John, and so placed an upper bound on how good he former could be in order to prevent this. In a way his fear was justified. "Othello" is a better play than "A Double Life" is a movie, and a good screen production of "Othello" would be a better MOVIE than "A Double Life" is a movie, and Othello is a more interesting character than Anthony John. But dulling the edge of "Othello" only makes "A Double Life" worse - even though it might make it LOOK comparatively better.

I said Colman's Oscar was misplaced but not undeserved because his performance, as Tony, is still good, and he integrates Tony-as-Tony with Tony-as-Othello as well, I suppose, as anyone could have. But he's been cast in a role where he would have had to soar to the heavens AS OTHELLO in order to pull it off, and he doesn't.

Production values are high, Cukor's direction is assured, Miklós Rózsa's score seems average by his standards (although Rózsa himself was proud of it; no doubt I'm missing something) ... in short, we've been given all that we'd have had a right to demand of a top-notch 1940s MGM production made by these particular people. It's a decent effort. It's just not a very interesting story of role confusion.

I'm puzzled by the choice of "Othello" as a source play. Othello, as everyone knows, has been manipulated into FALSELY suspecting his wife of adultery. Tony knows this, too. Why doesn't he remember how the play ends? In fact, the play is more about racism than it is about jealousy per se (if Othello hadn't been constantly made aware of the fact that he was an outsider, nothing tragic would have happened) - which means that Tony's circumstances and Othello's shed almost no light on one another. Where connections between the play and real life are loose, excessive madness must take up the slack, and excessive madness simply isn't as fascinating as just a little madness. It would have been better if they'd tailored a play to the needs of the movie and had Tony perform in that.
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Satisfying and unusual suspense film
funkyfry29 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
George Cukor directs this high quality story of suspense in the theatrical world with his usual sensitive but firm touch. Ronald Colman's performance, which earned him an Oscar, still stands up despite a few overwrought moments – it's hard to forget his haunted countenance as he struts aimlessly around social functions and tries to find meaning in his life. There are a number of interesting subtexts and Cukor does an excellent job of making them clear without forcing anything too much. The script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon is brilliant, mixing the rarified theater world with the seedy world of the streets and comprehensively utilizing elements from Shakespeare's "King Lear" as a reference to both the film's main theme of jealousy and Colman's character's obsession with identity.

Several interesting things about this movie – superficially it could be dismissed as too flippant a treatment of the everyday problems of actors. In other words if the art of acting required such complete sublimation of individuality we would soon have a rash of psycho method actors stalking the streets. But I don't really think this story's primary concern is acting or the job/art of acting per se. I think Anthony's struggles represents a broader existential question, a deeply buried uncertainty about identity. There's a key, I feel, in his relationship with his ex-wife Britta (Signe Hasso). He says that he never would have or could have become a good actor without her inspiration. And at another point he explicitly states that his extreme identification with his roles began when he married her. I'm not sure what to make of this but it seems important to me, especially because it's his obsession with her and jealousy of her that ultimately pushes him over the top. Perhaps the implication is that Anthony put himself in danger in the first place by entering into a serious relationship. Marriage implies a "union of the soul" in the traditional conception. It's unusual that the male and female protagonists are divorced at the beginning of the film. It's not completely unprecedented (Hawks' comedy "His Girl Friday" springs to mind, among others), but it is unusual and probably significant, especially in light of the fact that they do not end up resolving their romantic separation. In a way, the film could be implying that jealousy is another form of self-love.
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