One Way Passage
Kay Francis bumps into William Powell in a Hong Kong bar. Their eyes lock and a connection blooms. They share a drink, then part with Powell catching her eye again as he leaves the bar, each wondering what might have been.
As he steps outside, Powell feels a gun in his ribs. We learn he’s an escaped convict, staring down a hangman’s noose back in San Francisco. Sure, he killed a bad guy, but murder is murder.
Warren Hymer plays Powell’s captor, the kind of square-jawed lawman who orders buttermilk at a bar. He and Powell board a cruise ship bound for San Francisco. There, Powell spies Francis and the two reconnect again, with Francis unaware of Powell’s past or future.
Francis also harbors a secret: she’s dying of an unnamed terminal disease. The kind you only get in movies where she’s fine until a shock renders her unconscious and the doctor insists she has “no further excitement”. But Francis wants excitement and determines to cram as much living as possible into her remaining days.
Lest that feel too sombre, the film balances the melodrama with a comic subplot involving Frank McHugh as a drunken pickpocket, and Aline MacMahon as a con woman posing as a European countess. Both shine in their supporting roles, able to carry their solo scenes with ease. MacMahon even gets the best line in the film. After feigning interest in Hymer to aid Powell, she finds herself falling for him. She comes clean with the line, “I’ve been a long way and left a wide trail,” and Hymer’s reaction made me smile.
The sixty-seven minute running time feels perfect. We grow to love the characters but never lose the sense of urgency. And the closing shot, panning past McHugh alone at the bar, hit me right in the gut.