When we first see actor Anthony John (Ronald Coleman), he is standing in the lobby of a Broadway theater, buried in a trenchcoat with his face shadowed and hidden by a fedora, studying a painting of himself. John turns around and we're given the opportunity to compare the live face to the portrait hanging over his head. The artist got it all right save for the haunted, and immeasurably sad, eyes. John spends a lot of time studying himself in paintings, busts and mirrors - not because he's narcissistic, but rather because he has lost, or perhaps never knew in the first place, who he really is..
Anthony John is a great actor, a toast of Broadway, and a great guy. At least he is now, starring in a wildly popular light comedy. When playing in darker and moodier plays something comes over him. A young woman (who must have met him during an Ibsen play) bumps into him on the street and calls him a `stinker.'
A DOUBLE LIFE is a gutsy and brilliant movie about a man in search of himself and an actor who never learned to "leave it at midnight." To you a 40's expression, and this is very much a 40's movie, John is light and [...]when his character is so. Dark and brooding when cast as a tragic character. Theater friends pressure John to play Shakespeare's Othello. He demurs: "Some plays give me the willys, on stage and off." But the friends are persistent and John is intrigued, and soon enough he is up to his soul in that tragic tale of bloody jealousy.
Laurence Olivier was originally offered the part of the obsessed actor, but he was unavailable. The part, written by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon in their Oscar-nominated screenplay, calls for a good chunk of the final act of Othello to be played out on-screen. With his reputation and stage background, Olivier would have been ideal. The casting of Coleman, who was hesitant about acting that much Shakespeare on-screen, took a fair bit of courage (stage veteran Walter Hampden was hired on as a Shakespeare coach.) Possessed of a fine voice and a decent profile, Coleman was a movie, not a stage, star. Coleman not only has to convince us that he's a stage actor, but that he's one of the leading stage actors of his time. I can imagine him getting the willys. That he won an Oscar for this movie indicates that I'm not the only one who found his performance spot on.
Composer Miklós Rózsa also won an Oscar for his score. Director George Cukor was nominated, as well, losing out to Elia Kazan's A GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT.
A DOUBLE LIFE is a fine drama that excels on just about every level. Very strongly recommended.