Ronald Colman won his only Oscar for playing Anthony John, an actor who slowly descends into madness while playing Othello on the stage.
A Double Life is a terrific film noir that is extremely well-written and directed. The screenplay is really top-notch and ahead of its time, and some of the lines are really fantastic. I think the film would have deserved all of the Oscars it was nominated for, and I might even throw in a best picture nod. I always thought it had a relatively “modern” feel, as though it was made in the late 50s or around the 60s. And not to mention, the suspense in some scenes are highly remarkable, especially the Othello ones! All in all, it’s truly a quality piece that I highly recommend!
I guess if we were to mention the part of an artist descending into madness, people would instantly mention Natalie Portman’s fantastic turn in Black Swan (2010), but I guess not many people nowadays would know that such a role was also brought to life by Ronald Colman in 1947. Anthony John is one complex character, but he’s also constantly a mystery throughout the film. Yes, we get that he is this consummate artist who devotes himself a 100% to his roles, even when he is outside the theatre, but we don’t really know much about his personal back story. Colman always suggests that the guy was socially inept/had trouble fitting in with the others because of his inability to draw the line between fiction and reality. It’s amazing how his body language suggests so much about the character – the constant fidgeting/looking over the shoulders and the nervousness are all done so naturally, it’s as though Colman himself had fully inhibited the character. I loved how he also manages to give the character a sympathetic edge. I always felt sorry for him, even when he becomes increasingly murderous, and there’s no denying that he is a very sad character.
The relationship between him and Brita (Signe Hasso) is also another fascinating aspect of the performance. Colman has nice chemistry with Hasso, and you can always sense how much affection both characters have for one another. The relationship is a strange one, in a sense that both characters obviously love one another but they simply cannot be together because of Anthony’s weird working style. Both actors really excel here, bringing this complex relationship to life.
The “Oscar” scenes are when Anthony slowly descends into madness, and Colman is absolutely fantastic here. Amazingly , he doesn’t go all hysterical with the character’s insanity, but uses a subtle approach instead to portray the character’s madness. His use of his eyes are especially effective. There’s one particular scene where he confronts Brita about her relationship with Bill, and you could see that particular moment where his eyes just “snap” – fantastic. Throughout the performance, Colman never goes overboard with the character’s craziness, but he still successfully shows how he is slipping deeper and deeper into insanity. I especially loved how he showed the character’s reaction when he was slipping in and out of the character, like when he hears the music or his lines playing in his head. Colman was certainly a charming actor, but at the same time he shows how Anthony can be a very disturbing person to be around with.
Ronald Colman’s Oscar win is generally considered one of the more deserving ones, and yet I feel like his win is bordering on the underrated side given how it’s rarely mentioned nowadays. But it doesn’t matter, I was pleasantly surprised by how fantastic his work was. A truly deserving winner, and perhaps one of my favourites in this category!