William Powell and Kay Francis in One Way Passage (1932)



director: Tay Garnett; screenwriters: from a novel by Robert Lord/Wilson Mizner/Joe Jackson; cinematographer: Robert Kurrle; editor: Ralph Dawson; cast: William Powell (Dan Hardesty), Kay Francis (Joan Ames), Warren Hymer (Steve Burke), Frank McHugh (Skippy), Aline MacMahon (Countess Barilhaus/Barrel House Betty), Frederick Burton (Doctor), Roscoe Karns (Ship’s Bartender); Runtime: 69; Warner Bros.; 1932)

“This is a breezy story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Lord won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The director, Tay Garnett, allowed for satire to carry the comedic load and his instincts were correct as the film worked, easily overcoming the melodramatics. For the popular stars, William Powell and Kay Francis, this was the sixth and last film where they were teamed together, and is possibly their best. It is interesting to note that Kay had a speech impediment, not being able to pronounce r’s, therefore the script tried to give her as few of those sounds in her dialogue as possible.

This is a breezy story (believe it or not!) about doomed lovers who sail together from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Kay is a wealthy socialite who is terminally ill. William is a convicted murderer on his way to the slammer, where he is to be executed.

Joan (Kay Francis) and Dan (William Powell) first meet in an international bar in Hong Kong, where she bumps into Dan–whereby he spills his precious ‘paradise cocktail’ which upsets him, but when their eyes meet they fall in love. They drink a farewell toast and break their glasses leaving the stems crossed as a sign of good luck, figuring it is unlikely that they will ever meet again.

When Dan steps outside the bar, he is arrested by San Francisco Detective Steve Burke (Warren Hymer). He cuffs him and tells him they’re sailing to San Francisco together. Dan tries to escape by loosening the ship’s railing and falling overboard, but when he realizes that Steve can’t swim he rescues him rather than let him drown. The grateful Steve decides not to cuff him for the three week ocean voyage, one that has a stopover in Honolulu.

Dan meets Joan in the ship’s bar and the two star-crossed lovers begin their doomed romance in earnest, without telling each other their deadly concerns. She’s traveling with a doctor (Frederick Burton) to look after her, while he meets on board two con artists he knew from home who are working the boat. Barrel House Betty (Aline MacMahon) poses as Countess Barilhaus, as she tries to rope in a wealthy Englishman; while Skippy (Frank McHugh) laughs his way through the minor cons he pulls. In a funny skit, Skippy rushes into the ship’s bar and tells the bartender: “Hurry up give me a drink before the fight begins.” After two drinks, the bartender asks: “What fight?” Skippy: “The fight between you and me when I tell you I can’t pay for the drink.”

With the help of his cronies, Dan makes his escape in Honolulu. But when he tries to tell Joan, she has a heart attack and faints before he can tell her why he must leave. Dan then rushes her back to the ship, where he is recaptured. As a subplot Countess Barilhaus gets smitten over Steve and the promise that they could settle down in his chicken ranch. The two become an item, to the laughter of Skippy.

In the last scene, when Dan is taken off the boat by Steve he greets Joan to say goodbye, as they both learned about each other’s condition but don’t realize the other knows it. They make plans to meet again on New Year’s Eve in Agua Caliente–a rendezvous that neither will be able to keep. At a bar in Agua Caliente, on the date when they were supposed to meet, two cocktail glasses suddenly shatter as if having been joined in a toast by invisible hands.