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Thursday, 5 April 2007

Double Harness (1933) John Cromwell

Unavailable for fifty years because of legal wrangling, six films owned by King Kong producer/co-director Merian C Cooper are now available once more for broadcast on Turner Classic Movies. I'm no big fan of Ted Turner but TCM is a huge part of my life right now. The more I discover about what they're doing behind the scenes to preserve and broadcast classic cinema, and how little everyone else in the 'mainstream' is doing, the more I respect the people involved.

This one's a William Powell movie and seven months since the last one is far too long. Every new one is a treasure. This one's a romantic comedy with him opposite Ann Harding, who is one of a pair of daughters belonging to Colonel Sam Colby, ably portrayed by crusty old Henry Stephenson. The other one, Valerie, played by Lucile Browne is getting married and she's happy to spend like crazy to make it a memorable one. Joan isn't in love with anyone but decides to marry John Fletcher anyway, on the basis of logic and business sense. She finds some way of making it happen, only to find that what she got isn't necessarily what she expected, wanted or even thinks she's got.

I've always appreciated Ann Harding, with her down to earth no nonsense attitude and voice, and she's excellent here. Unlike someone like Katharine Hepburn, who would just straight out ask for whatever she wants, she's just as strong and dynamic but patient too to let things seem to unfold naturally but in reality stage manage the whole show from the wings. Of course she'd have to strong and dynamic and excellent to share the screen with someone as dominant a scene stealer as William Powell, who is on top form here too. He's more restrained than he often seems to be, but not by much. The pair of them work through the movie like a game of chess and it's fascinating to watch them with Powell's double takes and Harding's subtle thinking.

There are other people in the film, though they're hard to pay much attention to. People like Henry Stephenson and Reginald Owen are always reliable, but Lucile Browne and Lilian Bond are excellent too. Browne plays Joan's bitch of a sister for whom money just burns a hole in her pocket, even when it's someone else's money. Bond plays Fletcher's former flame, who is a piece of work herself. The film belongs to the leads and it's hard to tell which of them more. What a shame they never appeared opposite each other again.

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