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Film / A Double Life

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A Double Life (1947) is a Film Noir starring Ronald Colman, Signe Hasso, Edmond O'Brien, and Shelley Winters. It was directed by George Cukor and boasts a screenplay from Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon with a little help from William Shakespeare.

Anthony John (Colman) is a great stage actor; however, his Method Acting often takes him too far into the deep end. Events go awry when he’s given the part of Othello, as his life starts to reflect that famous play.

Caught up in the mess is his ex-wife Brita (Hasso) and publicist Bill (O’Brien) who Tony thinks are playing the parts of Desdemona and Cassio while waitress Pat (Winters) is also unwittingly involved.

This is the role that won Ronald Colman his first and only Academy Award for Best Actor. Miklos Rozsa also won an Oscar for Best Music.

This film demonstrates the following tropes:

  • Becoming the Mask: As the Othello production goes into its second year, Tony gets more and more obsessed about his character and his actions. He starts hearing lines and voices form the play. He then acts out the famous murder of Desdemona on Pat.
  • Blackface: As is the unfortunate tradition with white men playing Othello, there’s blackface involved.
  • Downer Ending: Tony dies by his own hand when he realizes what he's done.
  • Driven to Suicide: A strange case: during the performance, Tony realizes that his “bad dream” was actually his murder of Pat. Unable to cope with this fact, he actually kills himself with the prop knife.
  • Film Noir: A underrated gem from the classic era.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: As reflective of Othello, Tony becomes seriously jealous of Brita and Bill’s relationship. It seems that it wasn’t for nothing, since Bill does admit to being in love with Brita, but he never acts on it.
  • Jerkass: Tony becomes one with the continual success of Othello and gets into character so much that he actually chokes poor Brita during one of their performances.
  • Intrepid Reporter: It’s Bill’s newspaper friend who suggests mentioning the play in an article about Pat's murder. Unknowingly, Bill gives the go-ahead to this scheme and Tony freaks the hell out when he sees it.
  • Lost in Character: The whole conceit of the film is Tony losing himself completely in his role and making grave mistakes and eventually committing murder.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Tony acts like this in his last performance even if he's not sure why.
  • Plot Parallel: Othello serves as a direct parallel to the story’s plot.
  • Show Within a Show: Othello is not only the play the characters are in but also reflects the film's story. There’s also the comedy in the beginning called, A Gentleman’s Gentleman, which we only see a glimpse of.
  • Two First Names: Anthony John.