The (Tragic) Love Boat

One Way Passage (1932)

one way passage

I hardly ever finish watching a movie and rush right here to talk about it, but that’s what I’m doing in this case because One Way Passage is so deliciously, tragically good!  The plot is only-in-the-movies preposterous, but it’s done with so much style, wit, and heartbreaking romance that the unlikeliness of the storyline doesn’t even matter.

William Powell is Dan, a convicted murderer on his way from Hong Kong to San Quentin to be hung.  Kay Francis is Joan, a beautiful, spirited woman suffering from a fatal disease, on her way to San Francisco and a sanitarium.  The two meet, fall in love, and spend four dreamy but doomed weeks together on board an ocean liner, neither telling the other of their impending fate.

It’s all impossibly romantic and sad, full of moments like the one in which the couple toasts each other with half-empty cocktail glasses.  “Always the most precious, the last drops,” Joan says knowingly.  SIGH.


Dan is handsome, debonair, and  devoted to Joan, even giving up a chance to escape the hangman’s noose in order to be with her.  Joan is lively and fun-loving, despite the occasional swoon brought on by her illness.  The movie never explains Dan’s past by giving us any details of who he killed or why, and it never gets into exactly what’s wrong with Joan.  All you really need to know is that they’re beautiful, they’re in love, and their bittersweet happiness can’t last.

Kay Francis is a vision in her many elegant fashions by costume designer Orry-Kelly.  Her clothing alone would make the movie worth watching, even if it weren’t so good in other ways.  I want that floppy hat she wears with the sweater and high-waisted, wide-legged trousers!  My favorite of her ensembles is the sweet dress she wears for her day of honeymoon-like passion with Dan in Hawaii.  That parasol!



A comic touch is is provided by the film’s supporting cast.  Frank McHugh is a drunken pickpocket and Aline MacMahon is a goodhearted con artist.  Both of them help Dan spend time with Joan by keeping the sympathetic but dutiful cop accompanying him (Warren Hymer) out of the way.  MacMahon and Hymer are especially good, and their characters’ relationship provides a more hopeful romance to mirror the hopeless love of Dan and Joan.

One Way Passage is a treasure trove of escapist, Depression-era fabulousness – free-flowing booze (there’s no Prohibition at sea!), glamorous fashion, exotic locales, and the luxury of spending a month on a ritzy ocean liner, just to get from one point to another.

Most of all, it’s the marvelous William Powell and Kay Francis and their romantic, tragic love story that make the movie so divine.  One Way Passage is available from the Warner Archive.


Fred MacMurray Friday

It’s hard to believe it’s already the last week of February!  But it is, which means that this is the final installment of Fred MacMurray Friday.  I’ve had such a good time focusing on MacMurray and his films this month.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it too, and that you’ve been inspired to watch some of his many wonderful movies.

Today we’ll skip ahead about a decade from last week’s dark comedy, Murder, He Says and shift gears entirely.  This film is no comedy, though it certainly has the “dark” part covered.

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956)

always tomorrow4

It’s not often that classic movie melodramas focus on the emotional crises of men.  Normally it’s a neglected wife and mother yearning for passion, excitement and appreciation, not a neglected husband and father. There’s a reason they labeled them “women’s pictures,” after all.  But Douglas Sirk’s There’s Always Tomorrow gives us a sympathetic portrait of a man in crisis, showing us that the rigid post-war gender roles and societal expectations so suffocating for women could be just as stultifying and difficult for men.

Fred MacMurray is Clifford Boles, a California toy manufacturer and family man trapped in a life of routine and responsibility.  He’s taken for granted by his family, who brush him aside in their rush of daily activities.  Cliff’s wife, Marion, played by Joan Bennett, focuses all her attention on their three children – a college-age son, a teenage daughter, and another, younger daughter.  She’s so busy taking care of them that Cliff can’t even take her out to dinner and a show on her birthday.  She rebuffs all Cliff’s attempts to spend time with her or rekindle their marriage.  She loves him, but she’s complacent, and completely devoted to her children to the exclusion of her husband.

When Norma Vale, a former colleague who now works in New York as a fashion designer, unexpectedly comes back into his life, Cliff isn’t looking for escape or romance.  But of course that’s the turn things take.  Norma (Barbara Stanwyck, still gorgeous and  with an enviably sexy figure at age 49) was in love with Cliff twenty years before, and though she doesn’t reconnect with him in order to have an affair, she still carries a torch.

always tomorrow1

She’s having a crisis of her own, questioning her life as a career woman.  She has a failed marriage behind her and, as Marion points out to Cliff after Norma has dinner with the family, has missed out on the things all women want – a home and children.  Oh yeah, and a husband, too.  (Did I mention that Marion takes Cliff for granted?  He’s always an afterthought.)

One of the interesting things about this movie is that it doesn’t turn into a typical triangle, with the wife discovering the affair and fighting to keep her husband.  In fact, Marion seems unaware of Cliff’s growing feelings for Norma.  She doesn’t even blink when he tells her that he and Norma ran into each other at a Palm Valley resort during a business trip, and spent the entire weekend together.  She seems to trust him implicitly, or else simply not think of him as someone who would ever have an affair or attract a woman in that way.

Instead it’s the Boles’ children who provide the roadblock to Cliff and Norma’s romance.  Cliff’s son, Vinnie, sees Cliff and Norma together in Palm Valley, and though their relationship was nothing but friendship at that point, he assumes the worst.  He and his teenage sister, Ellen, confront Norma, who soon realizes there’s no way the story can end other than her going back to her life in New York and Cliff going back to his family.

“Love is a very reckless thing,” she tells Vinnie and Ellen.  “Maybe it isn’t even a good thing. When you’re young and in love, nothing matters except your own satisfaction. The tragic thing about growing older is that you can’t be quite as reckless anymore.”

Both MacMurray and Stanwyck give sensitive, honest performances as two middle-aged people who briefly find passion and love before being thrust back into the gilded cages of their lives sadder, but supposedly wiser.  This was the final of four movies in which they co-starred, and they’re so comfortable together that you feel right from the start that Cliff and Norma are kindred spirits, both searching for something missing in their lives.

The movie is beautifully photographed and full of classic Sirkian symbolism.  Cliff secretly telephones Norma at night, from the home that has become a prison to him.

behind bars

Mirrors and reflections abound, giving the audience a glimpse at the duality of characters, and the facades they put on for the world.




A robot in Cliff’s toy design workshop is in the foreground when Norma tells him their relationship has to end, depriving him of his brief escape from the soulless existence he endures at work and at home.

robot man

It’s not subtle, but it’s effective.  This article from delves into the deeper meanings behind what we see in the movie.  There’s Always Tomorrow doesn’t seem to be as well known as other Sirk masterpieces, like All that Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession, Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life, but it’s just as powerful an example of the director’s visual and emotional style.

I was heartbroken for Cliff and Norma by the end of the movie, especially for Cliff, whose growing anguish, brief moment of respite and hope, and return to the depressing bosom of his family was beautifully portrayed by Fred MacMurray.  Cliff’s return to his family is ostensibly the movie’s happy ending, but it left me feeling rather hopeless and bereft for this sad man.

I’m sure that was Sirk’s intention.  After all, the movie starts out with the words “Once upon a time in sunny California…” projected over a scene of gloom and rain outside Cliff’s toy factory.  Irony is the name of the game here.

I think the thing I’ve come to love and appreciate most about Fred MacMurray’s performances, whether in romantic comedy, silly slapstick, or tragic melodrama, is how perfectly he depicts the average, everyday man.  He’s the boy next door in his macmurrayyounger days and the suburban husband and father in middle age.  He’s the insurance salesman who meets a dangerous woman and gets in over his head, the sleazy executive having affairs in his underling’s apartment, the decent man trapped in a suburban prison.

He’s just a guy.  Handsome, but not ridiculously so.  Someone you might run into at the office or dropping the kids off at school.  An everyman.  He played those kinds of roles over and over again in different incarnations, from the comic to the tragic.  He brought his “regular Joes” realism, depth, darkness, light, humor, and pathos.

MacMurray was a very versatile, talented actor, something  I’ve come to realize more fully over this month of focusing on his movies.  Although Fred MacMurray Fridays are done for now, I’m sure he’ll keep popping up around here as I continue to discover and enjoy his work.

Coming Attractions: Springtime in Italy

With Fred MacMurray Fridays winding down this week, I thought it would be fun to do another theme on Fridays in March.  So next month I’ll be bringing you Springtime in Italy.


Granted, it may not feel like Spring to some of you yet, but that’s all the more reason to celebrate the approach of warmer weather with movies that take you to sunny, scenic Italy.  Even if you don’t have the time or money to jet off to Europe, you can always enjoy a movie vacation, spending a day traveling to Rome, Venice, and Florence without ever leaving the couch.


The hard part will be deciding which films to cover in only four Fridays.  The list of escapist classic movies set in Italy is very long!  Roman Holiday, Come September, Three Coins in the Fountain, Summertime, Rome Adventure, It Started in Naples and Light in the Piazza, to name only a few.

Speaking of Light in the Piazza, a lovely movie I’ve been dying to see released on DVD, this exchange was posted on the Warner Archive Facebook page on February 17th.


Someone asked:  “Any chance we’ll see Light in the Piazza (1962), Devotion (1946) or the Natalie Wood film Penelope (1966) anytime soon?”  Warner Archive answered: “One of them is coming next week…..another this Summer…and another soon thereafter….so the answer is, yes (eventually!) to all three.”

Hurray!  Or maybe I should say “Meravigliosa!”  I’ll be on pins and needles until Light in the Piazza comes out.  I’ll also be hoping it will be remastered.  It’s such a beautiful, scenic movie that it deserves a little extra TLC.

Fred MacMurray Friday

Murder, He Says (1945)

murder he says

Carole Lombard may have had to help coax a comic performance out of Fred MacMurray in Hands Across the Table, but by the time of 1945’s Murder, He Says, he obviously didn’t have any problems with being loose, relaxed, and downright silly when the part called for it. MacMurray’s very funny in the movie, and seems at home with slapstick comedy.

Fred plays a pollster for the Trotter poll (like the Gallup poll, but not as fast), sent to a rural backwood in search of a colleague who went missing. He encounters the Fleagles, a family of mean, crazy hillbillies headed by a bullwhip-wielding Marjorie Main. The Fleagles are trying to find a large sum of money stolen and then hidden by a now imprisoned relative, and they don’t mind killing anyone who gets in their way or, like MacMurray’s unfortunate predecessor, finds out too much.

murder he says posterThe plot is farcical and loony, full of ridiculous, laugh-out-loud situations as the family tries to poison, shoot, or bludgeon MacMurray. There are so many hilarious moments – Fred talking with the poisoned, glowing Grandma on her deathbed, dining with the Fleagles at a Lazy Susan table and trying to avoid the poisoned grits and gravy, and attempting to control legs that are not his own, to name a few. It’s all completely wacky.

MacMurray is fun to watch as the terrified city slicker who gets in way over his head, but finally manages to outsmart the crafty, criminal hayseeds. His facial expressions are priceless and his skills at physical comedy are impressive. In fact, sacrilegious as it may seem for me to say it, I enjoyed his performance in Murder, He Says much more than Cary Grant’s in the similarly zany dark comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. Grant was too over-the-top for me in that one, but MacMurray hits just the right notes in this role. He’s as goofy and frantic as the part calls for him to be, but is also sane and normal enough to balance out the other nutty characters and their antics.

There are many times when I wish I could see a classic movie in a theater with an audience, and a movie like this one is definitely one of them. As amusing as Murder, He Says was, I’m sure it would’ve been even funnier with a crowd of others laughing along, too.

All I want is to enter my house justified.

Ride the High Country (1962)


Elsa Knudsen:  My father says there’s only right and wrong – good and evil. Nothing in between. It isn’t that simple, is it?

Steve Judd:  No, it isn’t.  It should be, but it isn’t.

Director Sam Peckinpah’s elegy to the Old West, Ride the High Country, is a movie that transcends genre. Even if you think you don’t like Westerns, this movie is worth watching because it’s quite simply a well-told story, beautifully filmed in stunning locations, and featuring great performances by two legendary actors.  It’s the story of the end of an era, a changing world, and the true, timeless things that remain behind.

ride the high country

Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) and Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) are old friends and former lawmen who take on the dangerous job of escorting gold from a mining camp in the mountains to a bank in town.   Steve is a good man who is satisfied to do his job and earn his pay.  Gil, having grown disillusioned by how little living an honest life has gotten him, secretly plans to steal the gold – with or without Steve’s cooperation.

Gil brings a brash, disrespectful young co-conspirator named Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) along for the journey.  Whether Heck will continue in Gil’s footsteps or be influenced by Steve’s example is one of the more interesting questions of the movie.


Along the way the three encounter a religious zealot, Mr. Knudsen, and his daughter, Elsa (Mariette Hartley).  Elsa is bullied and oppressed by her father, so when Judd, Westrum and Longtree leave the Knudsen home for the mining camp, Elsa runs away and follows them.  She plans to meet up with her fiancé, gold miner Billy Hammond (James Drury).  She has only met Billy a few times, but she’s anxious to get married in order to escape from her father.

elsa and hammond bros

It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the naive and sheltered Elsa, however, when her fiancé and his brothers turn out to be violent, drunken brutes who think that everything should be shared among them – even one brother’s wife.  Judd, Westrum and Longtree are forced to rescue  Elsa from her new husband and his brothers, who pursue them with vengeance in mind.

joel mccrea

Steve Judd is a pillar of quiet, manly virtue.  Joel McCrea, with his clear blue eyes and calm, laconic manner, touchingly portrays Judd’s inherent decency and attempt to live a life of honor.  In a world where Judd is told he’s in the way and that he’s too old to do his job, he’s determined to keep his self-respect and do what’s right.  “All I want,” he says, “is to enter my house justified.”  Not only does he succeed in that for himself, but in the end he points his old friend Gil in that direction as well.

Gary Cooper was initially considered for the part, but he died before the movie was made.  As great as Cooper no doubt would have been, it’s hard for me to picture anyone else as Steve Judd after watching McCrea in the role.  He makes this character so strong, warm and real.  It’s one of the best things he ever did.

randolph scott

Randolph Scott gives Gil Westrum roguish humor, a good bit of cynicism and, in the end, a second chance at integrity and honor.  It’s a wonderful performance.  This was Scott’s last movie before he retired, and talk about going out in style.

McCrea and Scott have a great rapport as their characters.  As you watch them interact and reminisce there truly seems to be a history of shared experience and friendship between them.  Steve and Gil worked together for years and lived through the same times, but they’ve ended up in very different places morally and ethically.  The conflict that causes between them is quite moving.

ride the high country2

You also see how the years have taken a toll on these once celebrated lawmen, in ways both humorous (Steve needing his spectacles to read a contract) and touching (Gil asking Steve to untie his hands after Steve captures him for trying to steal the gold, because “I don’t sleep so good anymore.”).


Ride the High Country was filmed in the Inyo National Forest, and it’s absolutely gorgeous too look at.  The score by George Bassman is terrific, especially the beautiful and evocative main theme which you can hear in the trailer below.

The film manages to be both an exciting story and also an excellent character study full of quiet,  human moments.  There are top-notch performances by everyone involved, from the two stars to the supporting actors.

Even if you’re not much of a Western fan, Ride the High Country is a movie that deserves to be put on your to-watch list.

the endf

Fred MacMurray Friday

fred and claudette

Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert weren’t featured in TCM’s book, Leading Couples, but I think they should have been.  They complimented each other so well and had a great onscreen rapport.

The pair co-starred in seven movies over the course of fourteen years:  The Gilded Lily (1935), The Bride Came Home (1935), Maid of Salem (1937), No Time for Love (1943), Practically Yours (1944), The Egg and I (1947) and Family Honeymoon (1949).  I’ve seen all of these except Maid of Salem and Practically Yours, but today I’ll just talk about my two favorites.

The Gilded Lily (1935)

gilded lily poster

Fred and Claudette are adorable in The Gilded Lily.  Their chemistry is apparent from the moment we seen them together for the first time.  In a scene reminiscent of Peter Warne teaching Ellie Andrews to dunk donuts and hitchhike in 1934’s It Happened One Night, MacMurray’s Peter Daws tells Colbert’s Marilyn David why popcorn is the best snack.

Are they cute or are they cute?  I love the way he runs back to the bench in his socks.

He’s a newspaperman, she’s a secretary, and they’re best friends.  Of course they’re made for each other too, but they don’t know it yet.  Their friendship is put to the test when Marilyn falls for an English nobleman, played by Ray Milland, and their lives are turned upside down in a crazy, unexpected way.

Which man will she choose, the reporter and best friend or the wealthy Englishman?  If you don’t know, you haven’t seen many romantic comedies!  It’s no wonder Paramount decided to keep pairing Colbert and MacMurray after The Gilded Lily.  They’re wonderful together in this very amusing, sweet movie.

No Time for Love (1943)

No time for love poster

MacMurray and Colbert went from sweet to sexy for 1943’s No Time for Love.  Colbert plays Katherine Grant, an artsy magazine photographer assigned to cover the digging and construction of a tunnel.

When she meets MacMurray’s strapping, brawling “sandhog” construction worker, Jim Ryan, she thinks he’s a brute.  She is also extremely turned on by him and can’t get him out of her mind.  Fred is surprisingly hunky in this movie.  Not quite as hunky as depicted in the movie poster, however! 

shirtless fred

Katherine dreams of Jim in a superhero suit, sweeping her up in his manly arms.  He is insulting and he drives her nuts, but she’s still hot and bothered about him all the time.  At one point Jim looks at Katherine and bluntly asks “Do you want me?”  The Code may not have allowed her to scream a lusty “Yes!” and jump on him, but you could tell she wanted to.

When Katherine inadvertently gets Jim suspended from his job, she takes him on as her assistant in order to make it up to him.  Of course they clash constantly and sparks fly between them.  But you know what they say, the love impulse in men (and women!) often reveals itself in terms of conflict.

There’s a lot of enjoyably silly slapstick in the movie too, like a scene in which Jim scuffles territorially with a bodybuilder Katherine is photographing, and another in which Katherine teaches a bunch of macho sandhogs how to play musical chairs.  It’s classic battle of the sexes stuff and it’s fun to watch two masters of romantic comedy at work.

Next week on Fred MacMurray Friday I hope to talk about a movie I haven’t watched yet, but am very excited to see – 1945’s slapstick dark comedy, Murder, He SaysIn the meantime, I’ll leave you with this new review of MacMurray’s most famous movie, Double Indemnity, from Steve Hayes – better known as Tired Old Queen at the Movies

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Hayes’ reviews, I highly recommend checking them out.  He discusses lots of great old films in a loving yet irreverent way, and he’s hilarious, too.