Directed by George Cukor
Yuck. A Double Life had all the ingredients to make me put off watching it indefinitely: 1) never heard of it; 2) Shakespeare; 3) no favey actors. But since Ruth Gordon, the freaky old lady from Rosemary’s Baby wrote it, let’s roll.
A Double Life (also the name of Cukor’s bio) debuted George Cukor’s cinematic partnership with Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. At MGM, Cukor had been waiting to do meatier, less twinkly stuff. An opportunity opened up to work independently with the Kanins and he jumped.
Plot-wise, there’s not much to it. Aging, unstable “method” actor tackles Othello and after 300 performances he goes wacko. Pretty ridiculous, until you mouth, “Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now“. What makes this potentially prissy film zing is the sophisticated asides, the on-location 1940’s New York filming, and a slut-tastic midrif baring young Shelley Winters
Winters, one of filmdom’s foremost floozies is nearly unrecognizable here in pint-size proportions. Roseanne’s trailor park momma premiered her signature Death of a Tart* in this film. Winters said she based her grasping vulnerable Betty Boopish waitress on the call girls near Schwabs Drug store and her old room-mate, Marilyn Monroe. Nevertheless, it’s debatable if even Marilyn could have done as brilliant a job with such a small and potentially cartoonish role.
Ronald Coleman finally received an Academy Award for his performance as the bat-shit crazy, but still dashing, Anthony John. Too fabulous of face and voice to be a character actor, Coleman was kind of an early Robert Redford type. From the very beginning, in the silents, Coleman was a leading man. Mr. Romance and Adventure must have been thrilled to finally snag a creepier role, especially since Cukor and the Kanins promised him an Oscar for his efforts. Kudos to them for their ability to deliver on their word.
You can fast-forward through some of the Othello drivel, but don’t miss the spin on the strangle scenes. Mondo camera work. And this is one movie that gets better as it moves along. The second half is far more noir and gritty than the first half. You will love the New York location scenes. I am trying to place the restaurant that Anthony John is in near the end. It looks vaguely familiar. Don’t think it’s 21. If anyone knows, spill.
*See Winters in A Place in the Sun, The Great Gatsby, Night of the Hunter, Lolita, and Posedon Adventure)