On Christmas Day in 1947, Universal Pictures released a noir film, “A Double Life,” about an actor named Anthony John who starts to take his roles a little too seriously.
Played by Academy Award-winning actor Ronald Colman, John develops all the bad attributes of the lead in “Othello” in his real life. The movie is 107 minutes of nail-biting plot twists, which is why I found it odd that Universal Pictures would want to release it on Christmas Day.
The more research I did, the more I discovered that production companies start positioning movies of all genres for Oscar nominations around Christmas time. There are many psychological pieces published about horror movies that are either released around Christmas or deal with a Christmas theme (“Gremlins,” “Black Christmas,” “Jack Frost”) because this time of year plays to our warm emotions and underlying holiday stressors.
Like the character he played in “A Double Life,” the British-born Colman was an actor at odds with himself. Colman came through Boulder City and visited Hoover Dam on two occasions, as noted in the book “Boulder City: The Town that Built the Hoover Dam” by Paul W. Papa and according to the records kept by the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum.
Colman may have entertained millions with his movies, but off screen the Oscar-winning actor wanted little attention. His only daughter, Juliet Benita Colman, wrote a book in 1975 about her dad’s personality as the opposite of his work persona. The book is appropriately titled “Ronald Colman: A Very Private Person.”
Colman’s role in “A Double Life” wasn’t too far off from who he really was. The duality of an actor who is riddled with jealousy and a need for privacy, all the while seeking the approval of unfamiliar public faces to feed the ego, could be said about many entertainers. However, Colman’s character in “A Double Life” realizes the damage his duality caused off the stage, and the strong Othello-like part of his personality completely takes over before taking the actor’s life.
It’s a breathtaking moment where the dissociation of the character meets the similarities of the actor’s real life and all the potholes in between when who he pretends to be and who he really is finally meet. It’s a dark moment and the point where the audience realizes the entire movie has purposely built up to an unhappy ending.
In reality, Colman died in May 1958 after battling emphysema. He was never involved in any Hollywood scandals or had questionable insinuations turned into headlines by the press. From what we know, which is very little, Colman seemed to be reserved in nature and lived as an ordinary person.
This said, his amazing work as an actor was highlighted by various types of recognition throughout his career, including the George Eastman Award and not one but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for his work in film and the other for his work in television.
“A Double Life” is my Throwback Thursday movie recommendation for today. It’s a heart-pounding ride that plays up how easy it can be to lose the self that we know to a hidden, darker version that could exist within all of us.
Ironically, there is another movie in theaters right now with a tie to Boulder City and the same subject matter of “A Double Life.” This movie is titled “The House that Jack Built,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. It uses the same scare tactics as “A Double Life,” including a holiday-season release date. I found this movie to be hauntingly disturbing, which is why I also recommend it.
“The House that Jack Built” is not for the faint of heart and was supposed to have only a single-day theatrical release date in the U.S. after critics deemed it as too disturbing. Matt Dillon is its star, and he has been through Boulder City on his way to visit Hoover Dam.
With the new year upon us in a few days, “A Double Life” is a reminder that sometimes who we really are catches up with the person we pretend to be either in our public personas or on social media, which is why Jan. 1 seems like the perfect day for new beginnings.
Tanya Vece is a ghostwriter and independent marketing specialist. She can be reached on Instagram @TanyaLVece.