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This Oscar®-winning original story by Robert Lord is about a shipboard romance between a man condemned to be executed and a woman doomed to an early death. At a bar in Hong Kong, Joan (Kay Francis) bumps into Dan (William Powell) and almost immediately they are drawn to each other. But their brief time together is interrupted when Dan is arrested for a past crime and shipped back to San Francisco on the same ship Joan has booked. Dan jumps overboard but then returns to save his pursuer Steve (Warren Hymer) from drowning. In gratitude, Steve allows Dan to go without the cuffs on the voyage. During the remainder of the cruise, Dan and Joan resume their love affair, realizing that this may be their last chance for happiness.
An expert tearjerker, One Way Passage (1932) was the sixth teaming of Powell and Francis and proved to be their biggest commercial hit. They were first paired at Paramount when the studio realized their on-screen chemistry together and a string of successful melodramas followed: Behind the Make-Up, Street of Chance, For the Defense (all 1930), and Ladies Man (1931). Unfortunately, Paramount couldn't keep up with their salaries and both stars were lured away from that studio and given exclusive contracts with Warner Bros. They starred in two more features there: Jewel Robbery and this film, One Way Passage (both 1932). Yet strangely, despite the box-office success of both films, Warner's never paired them again. Powell's disillusionment with the studio wasn't long in coming as he soon left for MGM and hit his full stride in 1934 with the hits The Thin Man and Manhattan Melodrama. As for Francis, her career sadly faded as a second lead at Warner Bros. and by the 1940s, she was relegated to working at Monogram studios. For years, Francis was considered by some film historians as simply a "clothes horse" due to her glamorous wardrobe in most of her early films. Yet recently, there has been renewed interest in this star who created the prototypical "suffering in mink" heroine, the sort of role that was later popularized by stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Francis also excelled as free-thinking, independent women in such pre-Code fare as Mary Stevens, MD (1933) and Mandalay (1934).
Despite the soap opera aspects of Robert Lord's script, it says much that the film is still enjoyable by today's standard due to the polish of Tay Garnett's direction, an excellent roster of character players like the venerable Frank McHugh and Aline MacMahon, and of course, the performances of Powell and Francis. The film was remade in 1940 as 'Til We Meet Again with George Brent and Merle Oberon, but it wasn't nearly the hit that One Way Passage was. It just proves that a potent on-screen chemistry between two romantic leads is the key to the success of a film like One Way Passage.
Producer: Robert Lord, Hal B. Wallis
Director: Tay Garnett
Screenplay: Tay Garnett (uncredited), Joseph Jackson, Robert Lord (story), Wilson Mizner
Cinematography: Robert Kurrle
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Film Editing: Ralph Dawson
Original Music: W. Franke Harling, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: William Powell (Dan Hardesty), Kay Francis (Joan Ames), Frank McHugh (Skippy), Aline MacMahon (Countess Barilhaus), Warren Hymer (Steve Burke)
By Michael Toole