This was the second of the series of re-released, long missing films shown on Wednesday, April 2, 2007 on Turner Classic films.
RAFTER ROMANCE had a good deal of pleasant humor still going for it, and A MAN'S JOURNEY has some wonderful performances and a good story. But DOUBLE HARNESS, although it has two good performances (especially Ann Harding's) from it's leads has a script that most people would not accept. Family and filial devotion are still big matters to people today, but this film stretches these points way out of proportion.
Harding is the older of the two daughters of Henry Stephenson. The younger one is Lucille Brown. As the film begins we see Harding with Stephenson and Brown buying Brown's wedding trousseau. Stephenson is a decent sort (when was he not in most of his films?) but he has never been really astute about money matters, and so he is only able to afford $5,000.00 (1933 dollars, of course) for the weddings of both daughters together. But dear little Brown is spending more than her $2,500.00 share. Harding realizes this, and is a good sport - she let's this shopping spree eat up more than 2/3 of the total. After all, little sister is getting married.
Harding is asked by Stephenson and by Brown about her own marriage plans. She has been dating William Powell, a well-known playboy type, but one who actually has a business - a potentially important shipping line that Powell has allowed to be run by others, and is now somewhat shabby. It turns out that Harding actually has her own agenda. She sees that marriage by itself (supposedly based on love) is insufficient, unless the wife can be of use to bring out the best in the husband not only at home but in his career (this film is very much a 1930s film - the idea of the woman building her career is not part of the picture).
Powell is enjoying dating Harding, and it goes beyond a casual, more typical affair of a few days or weeks. But she sets him up (with the aid of her sister and Stephenson). Powell has brought her to his apartment on several occasions (and we imagine it is for more than the cocktails served to them by his butler, Reginald Owen), but one night Stephenson shows up as the angry, red-faced father (signalled to come by Brown after Harding calls Brown up). Stephenson acts as though he is furious, and wants to know the intentions of both Powell and Harding: how do they feel about each other, and will they marry or not? Harding admits she loves Powell, and would marry him, but it is up to him to decide. Flummoxed by the suddenness of the situation, Powell says he wants to marry too. So now the marriage can go through.
Now the title of the film is understandable, as the marriage is the "double harness" of the couple. But the problems are these. No matter how fond he is of Harding, and willing to go through the forms, Powell intends it to be a short duration marriage. Harding is discovering that she is slowly falling in love with Powell, and is also aware that he expects her to divorce him within a six months of their return from their honeymoon (on one of his cruise lines ships).
She gets to work to remake him racing against time - if she can domesticate him (and make him see he likes it) she can save the marriage. She also starts pushing him to get re-involved with the shipping line, and he starts taking charge of it (and it starts improving). Only two things may derail Harding's plans. One is the reappearance of one of the wealthy women (Lillian Bond) who thrived with Powell (or seemed to do so) when he was a playboy. She starts being seen around town with Powell, although he is simply being polite in taking her to lunch at such.
The other thing is Lucille Brown. Her marriage to George Meeker is in jeopardy (again we see no scenes about this) because she can't curb her spendthrift ways. Apparently they had a heavy duty argument at one point, when he agreed to pay off a big clothing bill, a few months after the marriage - he telling her that she better change as he was not rich enough to stand this kind of extravagance. Brown manages to sponge off Harding (using up all of Harding's private money) but still coming back for more. It seems there is a $1,000.00 debt that is owed, and Brown can't face Meeker about it. Harding pawns a ring for $500.00 (Brown is upset that the pawnbroker did not pay her the full value of the ring - as though a pawnbroker would!). But Brown is spoiled and rotten enough to consider either borrowing the money from Powell (without telling Harding) or going to a male admirer (Hugh Huntley) and "making an arrangement" with him for the money.
Harding's and Stephenson's affection for Brown as a member of their family is understandable, but both know she's a selfish, spoiled brat. She does considerable damage in the film - and it is a weakness (I'd call it a serious weakness) that she never really suffers the consequences about it while others do suffer. Somehow that would not pass these days. Otherwise the performances of the two leads (especially the under-appreciated Harding) makes the film quite watchable. Also good is Owen, as the perfect butler/valet, who has a funny sequence at one of the most disastrous dinner parties in movie history.