The Green-Eyed Monster

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
(Othello, Act 3, Scene 3)

Jealousy certainly does make monsters of us all. In A DOUBLE LIFE (1947), Ronald Colman stars as an actor whose latest role as the jealous, murderous Othello begins to take over his psyche, blurring reality. George Cukor’s direction is tight, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin’s script is clever, and Colman gives the performance of a lifetime, winning himself an Oscar in the process. With lines that blur between sanity and madness, Miklós Rózsa‘s greatest challenge was composing two distinct styles that had to blend together as Colman’s character moved further and further into madness.

Cukor suggested using the brass music of Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrielli as the springboard for the onstage Shakespeare scenes. Instead Rózsa wrote quasi-Baroque music in concerto grosso style, first featured in the bustling, muscular main titles.

A Double Life – Main Titles

Click Track: Main Titles

On the other end of the spectrum, Rózsa, who was nearing the end of his film noir period, composed gritty genre music for the paranoid scenes. To help him score these scenes, Rózsa interviewed psychiatrists for information about the sounds of the mentally ill. The pounding, dissonant music perfectly captures Colman’s deepening madness.

In one brilliantly scored scene during the opening night party, the stage music echoes and undulates in Tony’s (Colman) mind as he hears lines from the play repeated over and over in his head. Broken up by background cocktail piano, the music becomes more maniacal. He slaps his hands to his ears to stop the incessant buzzing inside his head, until (through wonderful sound effects) the lounge piano comes back into the foreground and “real life” returns.

There is very little music in the film and what there is is spotted judiciously. Even though the score may not be as well known as some of the composer’s other work, this does not diminish the power and the impact the music has on the film. Rózsa justly deserved his Oscar, even over such fine scores as THE BISHOP’S WIFE (Hugo Friedhofer), FOREVER AMBER (David Raksin), LIFE WITH FATHER (Max Steiner), and especially Alfred Newman’s epic CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE.

A Double Life – Suite

Click Track: A Double Life Suite

In 1948, Rózsa went to work at M-G-M for the next 14 years. Though his tenure at M-G-M gave us classics such as IVANHOE, BEN-HUR, KING OF KINGS and many others, A DOUBLE LIFE once again shows that Rózsa was just as adept at scoring contemporary dramas, before he became weighted down by all the M-G-M pomp and pageantry.

I have very few film music holy grails that I am itching to see released. A DOUBLE LIFE is one of them.

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