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Adapted from the Ferenc Molnar play Great Love, Double Wedding (1937) is a madcap romantic comedy in which Myrna Loy plays a straight-laced career woman who tries to push her younger sister (Florence Rice) into a sensible marriage with a stuffed shirt (John Beal). Rebelling, her sister falls under the influence of a zany bohemian painter played by William Powell who, in turn, sets his sights on Loy.
Double Wedding marked Myrna Loy's seventh co-starring role with actor William Powell. The two were first paired together in Manhattan Melodrama in 1934 and then went on to huge success as an on-screen duo playing Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series. MGM cast Myrna Loy in Double Wedding partly to ease the sting from the box office disappointment of Loy's previous picture, Parnell (1937), a historical biography often referred to as Clark Gable's worst film. By pairing her with reliable partner William Powell again, the studio hoped to put their popular leading lady back on top.
Sadly, it was during the making of Double Wedding when tragedy struck. Jean Harlow, William Powell's girlfriend of three years and one of Hollywood's biggest stars, died suddenly at the age of 26. Harlow had fallen ill with uremic poisoning brought on by kidney failure while making Saratoga (1937) on a nearby MGM set. Powell and Loy fretted helplessly over the platinum blonde star's health for weeks as she lay deteriorating in the hospital. Harlow's sudden death on June 7, 1937 was a shocking blow to Powell, Loy and all of Hollywood. In her 1987 autobiography Being and Becoming, Myrna Loy remembers that Harlow's death left her and co-star Powell "absolutely devastated" in the midst of making Double Wedding. "Oh, it was horrible, an awful blow," she said. "I loved Jean, deeply."
Following Harlow's death, the cast and crew of Double Wedding tried to carry on filming immediately, but William Powell's grief was too great. He asked for time off to recuperate, and the studio conceded, shutting down the production for several weeks. Eventually production resumed, and the picture was completed close to schedule. However, Myrna Loy felt like she and Powell were not at their best.
Actor John Beal, who plays stuffy Waldo Beaver in the film, was only 27 when he made Double Wedding. Aside from the tragedy with Jean Harlow, he found the production a positive learning experience. "Bill Powell had a technique, an instinct for comedy timing that kept me in awe all throughout the shooting,"Beal recounted in a later interview. "He was the consummate professional, never at a loss. I found my own comedy technique sharpening just from playing off him."
The teaming of Loy and Powell proved a smart move for MGM, as the star power alone made Double Wedding a box office success. More slapstick than their usual sophisticated comedies, audiences still couldn't get enough of their favorite on-screen duo. Variety said that the "dialog is snappy and provides plenty of laughs. So long as these two hold the screen there is no letdown in the fun." The pair would co-star in seven more films together, their last one being The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947).
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Jo Swerling, based on a play by Ferenc Molnar
Cinematography: William H. Daniels, Harold Rosson
Film Editing: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Edward Ward
Cast: William Powell (Charles Lodge), Myrna Loy (Margit Agnew), Florence Rice (Irene Agnew), John Beal (Waldo Beaver), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Kensington-Bly), Edgar Kennedy (Spike).
BW-87m. Closed captioning.
By Andrea Passafiume