The marriage of Valerie Colby (Lucile Browne) and Dennis Moore (George Meeker) leads Joan Colby (Ann Harding) to seek a spouse for herself. Though she claims not to love him, Joan selects wealthy playboy John Fletcher (William Powell), despite the fact that he pays no attention to his family's business (to the consternation of Joan's father, Colonel Sam Colby (Henry Stephenson)) and had been carrying on a very open affair with Monica Page (Lilian Bond). Since John claims he'll never marry, Joan concocts a plan - have her father walk in on them when she and John are in a compromising position in John's apartment. But there is a problem - Joan has fallen in love with John, and his suggestion of a marriage of convenience to placate her father is not really what Joan had in mind for her future.
Our reference to the French title is purposeful, because the gardenia plays a major role in the film, symbolizing the relationship of Joan and John. The gardenia is Joan's favorite flower, and a corsage or bouquet telegraphs important moments in their lives. The film was based on the novel Double Harness by Anthony Hope (of The Prisoner of Zenda fame) and a play of the same name by Edward Poor Montgomery. Elegant costumes were provided by Walter Plunkett - we were especially impressed with a fur embellished dress worn by Ms. Harding.
William Powell approaches John in much the same way he would later play Nick Charles - he has humor, but is a casual man, seemingly more concerned with his pleasures than anything else. But like Nick, he has depth. Though at first, he doesn't know how to do anything but play, he is taught by Joan that there is a joy in accomplishing something outside of a nightclub. Powell's scenes with the two women in his life - Joan and Monica - are wonderful. His eyes always let us know how he feels, no matter what his lips are saying. Would he marry Joan eventually if he hadn't been tricked? We think so.
While the New York Times reviewer was not particularly taken with this film, fellow blogger at Pre-code.com agreed with us that this is a film well worth your time. Essentially lost for years (these TCM articles and notes from the AFI catalog describe the history behind the film's disappearance), the film (along with five other Merian C. Cooper films) were aired on TCM and released under their TCM Vault logo in 2007. When the film was restored, a scene that had been cut - Joan emerging from a bedroom in lounging pajamas, as John awaits her return - was reinserted. Unfortunately, the film is out of print on DVD again (though still being shown on occasion on TCM). We leave you with clip of Joan (in her gardenias), beginning her seduction of John.