Thursday, October 8, 2009

Men are difficult too! ~ Double Harness (1933)

There is the standard misconception that in romantic relationships women are difficult and men are easy. I think this is a load of claptrap. Men are as difficult and depending on the individual, sometimes more difficult than women. They have their own hang-ups and emotional baggage that can muddy the relationship waters. What I find interesting in classic films especially from the 1930s and the 1940s is that there is a good mix of romantic drama from both sexes. It's not always the girl who is reluctant to marry the guy, oftentimes you find it's the guy who is dragging his heels.

In the recently found RKO film Double Harness (1933) , William Powell plays John Fletcher, a shipping tycoon who is uninterested in business and marriage, basically anything that would tie him down. He's the eternal bachelor who spends his money wooing dames and neglecting his future. In comes Ann Harding as Joan Colby, the daughter of a rich Colonel whose sister Valerie just married her love. Joan has a cool head about marriage and believes that is' as much a business arrangement as it is an emotional connection. Joan sets her sights on John because she sees great potential in him as a husband and as a shipping tycoon. Yet she's also in love with him which complicates things. They date for two months, which in contemporary dating would equal around two years, yet John, although in love with Joan, is reluctant to make the leap into marriage. When John's former flame, the wiley Monica Page (Lilian Bond) comes back into the picture, Joan becomes desperate and as a last resort devises a scenario that will trick John into marriage.

This movie can easily be split into two smaller ones because really there are two romantic plot lines. First is Joan's quest to marry John. Then after they are married, it's Joan's quest to stay married to John and to help him re-establish himself in the shipping business. Joan is the only one holding the relationship together as John has a plethora of hang-ups; his major one being maintaining his personal freedom. Even when he sees that marriage and business have been good to him and credits Joan for being a positive influence in his life, he still longs for the glory of his days as a free-wheeling bachelor. Whenever I watch this film, I feel exhausted for Joan. She builds a relationship from virtually nothing only to have to constantly work on it so it doesn't fall apart at the seams. That's emotionally taxing. Relationships can't be one sided and at one point or another John has to step up his game and work on the relationship too.

I could go on but I don't want to give the plot away (more than I already have). I really recommend this film. It's quite a diamond in the rough. It's available on DVD exclusively in TCM's Vault Collection.


  1. oooooh i'll have to check this one out at some point as i'm a big William Powell fan and also i think Ann harding was one of the most reliable actresses of her era. she's always good! have you watched Seven Days in May yet? an outstanding picture imo!

  2. So true. It's really the girls that have to compromise around the guys! Haha. This sounds great, and has two wonderful actors in it. All these pre-code movies were fantastic. It was an interesting era in film.

  3. I recorded this when they played it in the Lost and Found series a long time ago, but I haven't watched it since then-- I'll definitely pop it in the DVD player soon!

    As I recall, I think I felt exhausted for her character too. How much can she possibly do before he realizes how much she really loves him??

  4. I really liked this movie. I am a big Wm Powell fan, but having seen him mostly in post-Thin Man films, it was a surprise and a delight to see him portraying the suave, heartless bachelor. Ann Harding was also wonderful in this: even though she played noble characters, she imbued them with enough graciousness to be sympathetic rather than pathetic. The overlapping plots were great as well, and the ending, while abrupt, is satisfying!

  5. The reason I think the classic films of the Thirties and Forties--whether dramas or comedies--are superior to most romantic films today is that they did not take a simple view of the sexes. The relationships could be complicated, relationships between two people who both had their own baggage. Nothing was so simple and clean cut as in today's romantic movies. This is true of Double Harness, which I think is one of William Powell's best!

  6. Raquelle,
    Swell post! I haven't seen this film. The plot reminds me of another William Powell picture, Man Of The World from 1931, give and take a few details. I totally agree with Mercurie here, the relation dramas of yesteryear often were richer than those of today.


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