Monday, December 14, 2015

Ann Snares William

We selected an excellent pre-code film for this week's discussion - Double Harness (1933) (Femme aux gardénias in France), starring Ann Harding  and William Powell.

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.
Ann Harding brings a matter-of-factness to Joan's pursuit of John which precludes disliking her, even when we believe her only motivations are selfish.  Harding makes Joan something of a businesswoman - she sees potential in John, and in return for their marriage, she'll be his helpmeet.  After her realization that she, in fact, loves John deeply, Harding makes Joan warmer and more sympathetic.  But never does she make her a doormat - Joan is strong and smart - she never allows the viewer to believe she is otherwise.

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.
Neither of the other women in the film are particularly likable.  Of course, we aren't supposed to like Monica, but Joan's sister Valerie, as portrayed by Lucile Browne, is a selfish bubblehead, who milks her sister for money after running up a debt of $1,000 (nearly $18,000 in today's dollars) for clothing and doo-dads.  In revenge for her sister denying her more money, Valerie tries to break up Joan's marriage.  Browne does a decent job with the character - she doesn't try to make her attractive; our dislike for Valerie was powerful.  Browne appeared in 45 films and shorts between 1930 and 1950, mostly in small and/or uncredited roles. She primarily was a homemaker from 1938 on, after her marriage to William James Flavin (who also left acting to teach).  17 days after his death in 1976, the grief-stricken Lucile died at the age of 69.

While the New York Times reviewer was not particularly taken with this film, fellow blogger at 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.  


1 comment:

  1. I've been told by a colleague that the full movie is available for viewing on YouTube.


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