Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kay Francis birthday tomorrow

Normally, I prefer to mark birthdays on the day they occur, unless TCM is showing a movie starring the birthday person early in the morning, and I'd like to recommend it. Such is the case with One Way Passage, airing at 8:30 AM ET tomorrow on TCM.

William Powell plays Dan, a murderer wanted by the authorities in California for having escaped prison; having committed murder, he's doomed to be sent to the gas chamber. He's been caught in Hong Kong and, this being the days before transoceanic plane travel, he gets to take a slow boat back to his death. On the boat, he meets Joan (Kay Francis). She's a wealthy socialite who has no idea about Dan's past, or that he's on the boat going back to his death. It turns out, though, that she too is facing death, having been diagnosed with some fatal illness, the details of which we're never really given.

The two fall in love, but each of them has a dilemma: tell the other that this can only be a brief relationship, or keep that a secret and just enjoy the brief relationship for what it is. (Of course, if each knew both of them were going to die, that would change things....) Both of them choose secrecy, and proceed to have a doomed romance aboard the ship.

That's about all there is to the plot, except for the things that we viewers know that the two dying passengers don't; and the fact that as the boat makes its way across the Pacific, we know the two lovers' time together is growing shorter and shorter. It's a story that doesn't sound like much, but One Way Passage is actually quite a fine movie. Not only do Powell and Francis do well; they're helped by a supporting cast that includes Frank McHugh as a conman friend of Powell's, and Aline MacMahon as another con passing herself off as wealthy, reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve.

Sadly, One Way Passage has made it to DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection, so you're either going to have to pay a bit more, or catch one of the infrequent TCM showings.

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