Saturday, November 24, 2001


William Powell plays a captured crook heading for execution at San Quentin. Kay Francis is a dying woman he meets in a bar in Hong Kong; they wind up together on a ship for San Francisco. The plot centers around their shipboard romance and how they try to keep their respective "terminal" conditions secret from each other. For a 1932 movie, it's quite modern in feel--lots of nice (but not grandiose) directorial touches, like some sweeping camera movements, especially the nice ones along a bar that open and close the movie. Considering there is only one plotline, the supporting cast really gets a chance to shine; Aline McMahon plays against somewhat type as a con artist traveling as a duchess, and Frank McHugh is another crook who pulls con jobs while acting perpetually drunk. They team up to help Powell outsmart the cop who has him under lock and key (Warren Hymer). The character of the cop is interesting--he eventually is seen in a fairly favorable light, despite his antagonism toward Powell.

The more I see of Wiliam Powell, the more impressed I am with him. Because he did a lot of light parts and is mostly known these days for the Thin Man movies, I think his reputation has suffered. He is a remarkably subtle actor, more so than many others in the early 30's, a transitional period as talkies wiped out silents and acting styles were in flux. His THIN MAN movies, though fun, don't do him justice. I think his best acting is in earlier films like this one and MANHATTAN MELODRAMA. The one thing lacking here is chemistry between Powell and Francis. Both were fine, although I giggled at Francis's first line ("I'm so sorry," with her infamous slurred R's), but the romantic heat that is necessary in order to buy some of the plot twists wasn't there. Part of the problem is that it was quite short (around 70 minutes) so their initial attraction happens without being fleshed out enough for us to understand it. Still, a wonderful film with a wonderful cast. I'm looking forward to seeing more Powell films.

No comments: