A DOUBLE LIFE (1947) shows that jealousy makes monsters of us all. Especially when you’re Ronald Colman and your latest role as the jealous, murderous Othello begins to blur reality. George Cukor provides tight direction for Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin’s clever script. Colman gives the performance of his career, winning himself an Oscar in the process. 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.
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 the brilliantly scored scene 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 the piano returns along with “real life.”
There is very little music in the film but it is spotted judiciously. The score may not be one of the composer’s better-known works. But that does not diminish the power and 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.
In 1948, Rózsa went to work at M-G-M for the next 14 years. His tenure at the studio gave us classics such as QUO VADIS, IVANHOE, BEN-HUR, and KING OF KINGS. But 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.