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Thursday, November 24, 2016

A DOUBLE LIFE (1947)

This superb psychological thriller is like a genre unto itself: Theatre Noir. Ronald Colman, after three decades as the screen’s most gentlemanly romantic idol, turns dark & threatening as a B’way star who closes a lightweight hit (actually called A GENTLEMEN’S GENTLEMAN) to test the depths of Shakespeare’s OTHELLO. But danger lies that way, since Colman tends to over-identify with his roles; a carefree fellow playing Boulevard Farce, he becomes tortured, even dangerous playing tragedy. A first collaboration between director George Cukor and married scripters Garson Kanin & Ruth Gordon, the combination brought out an exciting, experimental tone, especially from Cukor, visually freed from studio strictures and reveling in location shooting, arhythmic editing, daring long takes & stylized angles. Strongly abetted by lenser Milton Krasner & editor Robert Parrish, Cukor was able to concentrate on working his cast to a frenzy. The film is remarkably scary at times, and shows technically unexpected physical chops. An out-of-the-blue propulsive fight scene for Colman & publicity man Edmund O’Brien; and a shockingly blunt, brusque sexual pick-up of trampy, young Shelley Winters by Colman, working a vein of sexual entitlement rare in films of the time.* And note how smoothly the film morphs from rehearsal into performance with Colman’s Othello, generally thought underpowered by theatrical fashions of the day, holding up to stunning effect as a film assumption. Even his swarthy makeup as The Moor remains acceptably modern in today’s touchy P.C. environment. Less successful is the murder investigation which runs a little too smoothly with the OTHELLO connection conveniently brought out by the medical examiner. But it hardly detracts from the achievement here, and that includes Miklos Rozsa’s pulsating, award-winning score.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Typed as a “Women’s Director’ (read ‘closeted gay’), Cukor bristled at the dismissive title having guided James Stewart, Rex Harrison & Ronald Colman to Oscars®. (And Laurence Olivier to an Emmy.)

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Both Miklos Rozsa’s auto-bio and Patrick McGilligan’s Cukor bio carried the title (A) DOUBLE LIFE.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Winters claimed to have based her role on roommate at the time Marilyn Monroe.

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