Ronald Colman won a Golden Globe and an Oscar—against John Garfield in Body and Soul and Michael Redgrave in Mourning Becomes Electra—for his selfconscious and laughably theatrical turn as the insane actor who cannot keep his stage performance of Othello separate from his private life in A Double Life. Beautifully and intricately directed by George Cukor, who has a field day playing with sound and sound effects, and gorgeously, darkly yet crisply photographed in black and white by Milton Krasner (this is the highest attainment in his career), the film is, of course, a variant on a longstanding joke in theater. But nothing is funny in this glum, relentless film, least of all Colman’s acting. The script is by the spousal team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin.
Martin Scorsese and others insist that the film is Cukor’s only attempt at film noir. However, I have written this about Cukor’s Gaslight:
At least by habit, if not by creed or philosophic imperative, film noir places a male hero at disadvantage to a femme fatale—a deceitful, corrupt woman who ensnares the man in his own ruin, or sometimes, intending no harm, an intoxicatingly mysterious woman whose effect on the man generates the same result. On the other hand, the lady-in-distress thriller harkens to an older, simpler form, the theatrical melodrama, where it is a man who disadvantages a woman, or more than one woman, for the sheer sadistic pleasure of doing so. In both instances, a projection of sexual fear participates: in the lady-in-distress thriller, the villainous male suggests the female’s fear of sexuality, although the sexuality she fears may be emblematic of the male power in her world that in any number of ways, not just sexually, disadvantages her; in noirs, the treacherous female suggests the male fear of being consumed, and not just sexually but also emotionally, by the female. George Cukor’s marvelous Gaslight combines both conventions, enhancing an old-fashioned melodrama with the kind of psychological complexity usually reserved for film noir.
I will leave it to you to decide who is more accurate in this matter, Scorsese or I. Let me add, though, a related thought: what distinguishes Cukor’s A Star Is Born (1954) from other versions is precisely its noirishness—and, of course, the singing talent of Judy Garland.