Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Double Life

I had always wanted to see A Double Life ever since I saw it on those lists of Oscar-winners, this one for Ronald Colman as Best Actor. TCM ran it back in July when they had Colman as their Star of the Month, and I DVRed it and finally got around to watching it since it's available on DVD.

Colman plays Anthony John, a stage actor who's popular with the audiences as his current comedy, The Gentleman's Gentleman, is a big hit. But we learn already in the opening scenes through whisperings from people who know him that he can be a difficult person to be with as he's very intense and has a tendency to get too much into his characters. Indeed, part of this is why his ex-wife Brita (Signe Hasso) divorced him, even though the two remain good friends.

Anyhow, the current play is going to be closing, as Anthony's producer Max Lasker (Philip Loeb) has a brilliant idea to have Anthony do Shakespeare's Othello. Those whisperings about Anthony's becoming too much like his characters is an issue, but everybody blithely ignores it. Except for Anthony himself, who can't ignore it because he finds that acting and the characters he plays constantly intrude on real life to the point that you'd have to question his sanity. Somebody get this guy a shrink. Anthony even goes off with another women, waitress Pat (Shelley Winters), who notices right away that Anthony is f***ing nuts. It would have been simple enough for him to say that he's an actor to gets a little too much into his characters, but nooooo, he couldn't do that.

Anyhow, Othello becomes a stage hit, held over for months and months, even though Anthony already starts having more issues at the party after opening night. And then during one performance of the climactic scene, one which requires Othello to strangle Desdemona (played by Brita) before killing her with a kiss, Anthony throttles Brita to the point that she fears for her health and a doctor is called in. At this point, the film starts to go a bit off the rails, about which I can't really explain more without giving away major plot points.

It's easy to see why, on watching A Double Life, why Colman was awarded the Best Actor Oscar. Colman is really good, not just at Shakespeare, for which he's got a great appearance and voice; he's great at playing the guy losing his sanity if he ever had any to lose in the first place. But I found the final third of the movie to be fraught with plot holes. If Anthony is going nuts already on opening night, wouldn't it be far worse as the play goes on and on and on? And Shakespeare revivals get that long of a run? Also, a journalist and Anthony's press agent Bill (Edmond O'Brien) both get make ridiculous leaps of logic that are needed to advance the plot. Speaking of Bill, Brita mentions him as her new partner during one of his rages; or, at least, she gives this name to Anthony and a couple of scenes imply Brita and Bill are more than just friends. But when Brita mentions Bill to Anthony in that scene, he acts as though he has no idea who this Bill is!

Overall, A Double Life is one of those movies I'm really glad I finally got around to seeing. Fans of good acting will love Colman's performance, and I'd bet fans of the stage will probably enjoy it too. But it's one of those I won't be going out of my way to watch a second time.

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