And in keeping with my Roland Young voyage of discovery, I was pleased that You Tube had HIS DOUBLE LIFE.
It’s a delightful story of internationally renowned painter,Priam Farrl (Roland Young) who is so shy and retiring, even his banker has never met him. His paintings sell very well,but his agent says, “I’ve been his agent for 15 years and I’ve never met him.”
Priam is the Garbo of the art world. He relies on his man Friday,Henry Leek (Roland Hogue) for all the every day things.
Unknown to Priam,Henry has been wooing Alice Chalice (Lillian Gish) by mail, but they have never met. Henry sends her a photo of himself and Priam but doesn’t make it clear who’s who!
Priam and Henry are travelling to London from Spain and Henry lets Alice know.(She lives in London).
Unfortunately Henry catches a cold that turns into pheumonia. Priam helps Henry by having him take over Priam’s bedroom . He calls a doctor who assumes the sick man is Priam,asking Priam,”How long has Mr.Farrl been ill?”
Priam is taken aback but doesn’t try to correct the doctor. He says,”My poor Leek,he takes you for me.”
Poor Henry dies and Priam,rather weakly and unsuccessfully,tries to tell the doctor the truth. But it is too late. No one believes him.
The newspapers get the story and Alice reads about Farl’s death. Meanwhile,Priam is lost without Henry.His cousin Duncan (Montagu Love) comes to see the body.Although he hasn’t seen Priam since he was 12 , he swears Leek is Farrl.
The cousin quickly gives Priam £8 and tells him to leave. He also finds Priam’s will which only gives him a few pounds for being executor – Henry is due £80 a year, and the rest of Priam’s fortune is to go towards building an art gallery.
As Priam is leaving,he absent- mindedly says they can contact him at a luxury hotel. The cousin says, “The man’s mad!”
When Priam arrives at the hotel,Alice is there,holding the photo of Henry and Priam. Of course she assumes that he is Henry. When they meet,Priam,unusually,feels relaxed in her company. He says,”I don’t feel shy with you.”
Alice admits she joined a matrimonial agency because she wants to get married. He invites her to lunch and they spend the day together.
Priam reads his own obituaries and comments to himself,”I suppose I was rather wonderful.”
Two reporters offer him £100 to write an article about his mysterious employer. When he hears that Henry is to be buried at Westminster Abbey,he tells the reporters,”I am Priam Farrl.” They laugh at him.
Priam can’t resist going along to the Abbey. He’s amazed at the pomp and ceremony and knows he should have come clean. He starts to cry and is thrown out,saying “It’s the music. This is my funeral!”
He tries to convince Alice who is he is and says,”I tried to stop them burying that chap in the Abbey.” She wont believe him but invites him to stay with her. She is quite comfortable,financially – “Father always said,keep your money in beer”.
Alice is very happy to take Henry’s place and care for Priam. He is delighted, “Perhaps I have died and gone to heaven!”
They are married and a year later Priam is painting again. Because her brewery shares have been sliding,Alice starts selling his paintings at £15. Priam is happy, “I’m painting better than I ever did.” He doesn’t care what Alice is charging. But the paintings are then sold on and eventually one is recognised as a Farrl.
A painting expert comes to see him and offers him £500 for one work and says, “How did you do it? – escape from the Abbey!”
To make matters worse, a woman and her two sons appear at their home – she was married to Henry Leek but hasn’t seen him for 25 years. She calls Priam a bigamist,”a deserter of women.” Priam cant deal with her and pops out of the house. Lillian Gish as Alice has a great scene in which she quietly suggests to Mrs. Leek (Lucy Beaumont) that ‘Henry’ may be insane,abusive and broke! And there could be a scandal. The trio clear out!
Things don’t get any better. Priam’s old art dealer,Mr.Oxford (Lumsden Hare) is being sued for saying a painting with a current date on it is by Priam.
Priam is forced to appear in court and says, “My name is Priam Farrl. I have nothing more to say.” It has been established that the real Farrl has two moles but Priam refuses to show them.
The ever practical Alice tells him, “Darling,show the gentlemen your moles and we can go home.”
Alice gets the final word, “You’ll always be Henry to me!” – as they leave on a cruise.
Although a comedy, Roland Young subtlely conveys the anguish Priam experiences when he has to have contact with the world. At the beginning of the film , he says, “I’m afraid of the world.People terrify me.”
Fortunately Priam has found the sweet and understanding Alice who sees the real Priam and loves him.
I was very impressed by Lillian Gish and it’s sad to read that she never made another film for 10 years.(She did stage and radio work.) She was Oscar-nominated in 1946 for DUEL IN THE SUN and I am about to watch her in 1955’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.
His Double Life was made by Paramount at the Astoria Studios in Long Island. It is in public domain.Yet another film which deserves restoration. It was remade in 1943 as HOLY MATRIMONY with Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields. I’d like to see this one again to compare the two.
It was first filmed in 1921 as The Great Adventure, with Lionel Barrymore, and was based on the Arnold Bennett novel,”Buried Alive.”