30 April 2001 | mark.waltz
An all-time classic romance
He's set to be hanged for murder; she's dying of a mysterious illness. By chance, they meet before sailing on a ship set-sailing for San Francisco, and fall in love. He is William Powell, the most debonair leading man of the 30's. She is Kay Francis, the best dressed woman of the 30's. They are both very attractive, yet doomed.
Such is the basic storyline for this wonderful drama filled with tears, humor, and drama. The team of Powell and Francis had appeared together in four films at Paramount before being signed by Warner Brothers in 1932 when they made this film along with another classic, "Jewel Robbery". Where Powell and his later partner Myrna Loy exemplified sophisticated humor several years later at MGM, Powell and Francis were a romantic couple. Both Loy and Francis were well-dressed, dark-haired beauties. While Loy had a career that lasted almost 60 years, Francis would retire from the screen by the mid-late 40's. As a result, she was one of Hollywood's forgotten leading ladies until the success of Ted Turner's classic movie channel brought her back into the limelight.
"One Way Passage" is the team's most beloved film, and its Academy Award winning story is just one of the highlights. The stars are another, but the supporting cast was simply superb as well. Frank McHugh, as a drunken conman, is perfect comedy relief along with the fabulous Aline MacMahon as the phony "countess". If there had been Supporting Academy Awards for acting in 1932, she would have won for this film handsdown. She is simply wonderful. There is not a moment of hers on screen where she doesn't dominate it. Warner Brothers apparently offered her the chance to become a leading lady, but the realistic MacMahon realized that her best parts would come with the character roles that often stole the limelight away from the stars. Catch MacMahon in the very well known "Gold Diggers of 1933" and more obscure films such as "The Merry Frinks" and "While the Patient Slept" to see what I mean. Her later films, "Dragon Seed" and "The Search", are perfect examples of what a gem she was as a performer.
The music score, later heard in the background of many a Warners "B" film, is classic. The screenplay is superb, and the length-well, a mere 68 minutes, which goes to show that good things do come in small packages. Sadly, after this and "Jewel Robbery", Powell and Francis were never paired again; Powell went onto MGM where better things awaited him, while Francis remained at Warners for many similar films, none of which could surpass the charm of this film. It was remade of course by Warner Brothers in 1940 as "Till We Meet Again" with George Brent and Merle Oberon. That version was not bad, but certainly an also ran compared to this film. The ending will leave you joyfully heartbroken.