Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Skeates, a London drama critic, dictates a scathing review of the actor Edmund Davey (Sebastian Shaw) in a new production of Othello; Edmund's wife Barbara (Gertrude Lawrence), who is playing Desdemona, arrives to try and stop the review from seeing print because Edmund is particularly sensitive right now. Skeates' secretary Ann (Miriam Hopkins) sneaks down and, knowing that Skeates never reads his own paper, changes the review. Unfortunately Edmund finds Skeates and thanks him for his praise, so Skeates, having discovered the switch, fires Ann. That night, Ann goes to see the play and falls for Edmund, going back to the play night after night; eventually Barbara invites Ann to dinner, and an attraction springs up between Ann and Edmund. Skeates lets her come back to work, and fellow reporter Tommy (Rex Harrison) tries to get Ann to date him, but she becomes obsessed with Edmund and he with her. They begin an affair; when Barbara finds out, she tries to get Ann to give him up, but Edmund, going a bit overboard, decides to kill Barbara for real during Desdemona's onstage death scene.

This sounds like a downbeat melodrama, and indeed the later movie A DOUBLE LIFE would use the same central premise: an actor begins to go insane during a run of Othello and acts out the climactic moment in real life. But surprisingly, despite the darkish turn this film takes, it's mostly played in a frothy comic tone; the juxtaposition of comedy and melodrama is the most interesting thing here. Hopkins is sprightly; Shaw is intense; it's fun to see the legendary stage performer Gertrude Lawrence—she only made a handful of movies—though she's fairly drab here, upstaged by Hopkins. Harrison has little to do beyond being basically a lanky supporting juvenile. The best scene might be one in which an artist tries to blackmail Barbara by making her buy a painting of Ann and Edmund canoodling in the park, but doesn't get past Barbara’s intimidating maid (Laura Smithson). The title is a line from Othello. Interesting if not essential. Pictured, from left to right, are Lawrence, Shaw and Hopkins. [Criterion streaming]

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