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Tay Garnett
William Powell, Kay Francis, Frank McHugh
Writing Credits:
Wilson Mizner, Joseph Jackson

A terminally ill woman and a debonair murderer facing execution meet and fall in love on a trans-Pacific crossing, each without knowing the other's secret.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 68 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 4/25/2023

• 2 Radio Adaptations
Buzzin’ Around Short
A Great Big Bunch of You Short
• Trailer


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One Way Passage [Blu-Ray] (1932)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 10, 2023)

Modern audiences likely best remember William Powell for the Thin Man series. However, he made nearly 100 movies, and 1932’s One Way Passage lets us see Powell not long before he took on the career-defining role as Nick Charles.

Dan Hardesty (Powell) and Joan Ames (Kay Francis) meet each other on a long ocean cruise. This results in romance.

However, both come with dark secrets, as Joan suffers from a terminal disease and convicted murderer Dan is on his way to prison. Dan and Joan need to confront their challenges.

If that synopsis doesn’t scream “sappy melodrama”, what does? Normally a film like this would find itself content with one hard-luck character, but Passage doubles down on the misery.

And thus it leans hard into soap opera territory, though not on a consistent basis. In a perplexing choice, Passage spends a lot of time with con artist “Barrel House Betty” (Aline MacMahon).

This thread doesn’t completely disconnect from the Dan/Joan romance. We see that Betty knows Dan and wants to help him.

Betty acts mainly as an expository character. Inevitably, we learn that Dan isn’t a cold, hard killer when she explains the nature of his conviction.

Passage also digresses to show how Dan’s arresting officer Steve Burke (Warren Hymer) falls for Betty’s phony “countess” act. This acts as another detour from the Dan/Joan relationship.

In a longer movie, Passage might balance these two domains. With just under 68 minutes at its disposal, though, all the nonsense with Betty and company feels like a major distraction.

For a movie ostensibly about a seemingly doomed romance, we spend surprisingly little time with the main characters. Not that Dan and Joan sit on the sidelines, but Passage often seems eager to show us anything but their relationship.

Which I can understand given how darned dull that side of the movie tends to feel. Passage never manages to make Dan and Joan into a compelling couple, so their affair becomes a bland drag on the film.

And that seems like a problem given said affair acts as the basic plot of Passage. While Dan and Joan take up more screen time as the film runs, they never ignite sparks.

This leaves us with a dreary main story that doesn’t benefit from the clumsy side plots or limp attempts at comedy. Nothing here really manages to grab the viewer’s attention as it should.

Footnote: I won’t spill any beans in the interest of spoiler avoidance, but Passage comes with one of the oddest stabs at a happy ending I can imagine.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

One Way Passage appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a pleasing presentation.

For the most part, sharpness seemed fine. Some wider shots tended to be a little soft, but those never created substantial concerns and I felt the film usually exhibited very good delineation.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge haloes. The movie’s opening felt a bit rough, but otherwise the film lacked print flaws.

Blacks appeared quite nice. Those tones showed solid depth, and shadows also exhibited positive clarity. Contrast gave the movie a nice silver sheen. Overall, this was a perfectly satisfactory – and often surprisingly good – image.

I felt the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Passage largely matched age-related expectations. Speech tended to sound somewhat metallic and sibilant, but only occasional edginess appeared, and the lines remained perfectly intelligible.

Music came without a lot of range, but the score also seemed reasonably concise. Effects veered toward the bright side of the street, but they also remained fine given their age. Given its age, this became a more than satisfactory track.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find two shorts. We get 1933’s Buzzin’ Around (20:18) and 1932’s A Great Big Bunch of You (6:48).

Bunch offers a “Merrie Melodies” cartoon in which objects left at a trash dump come to life. It shows some cleverness but doesn’t really entertain.

More than a decade after his career derailed due to scandals, Fatty Arbuckle attempted a comeback, and Buzzin’ represents part of that effort. It also lacks a lot of comedy value, but it seems intriguing as a historical curiosity.

We also get two separate radio adaptations of Passage. Broadcast March 6, 1939, “Lux Radio Theater” (59:30) allows William Powell and Kay Francis to reprise their lead roles.

All these broadcasts tighten up the movies, usually in a negative way. However, the changes to Passage benefit the story, as they make it more coherent and focused.

Not that this means the “Lux” presentation delivers an engaging story, as the melodramatic flaws remain – and the odd ending becomes even more cloying since the actors spell it out more directly. Still, at least “Lux” adapts the tale better than the movie.

From December 30, 1949, “Screen Director’s Playhouse” (29:58) features Powell but with Peggy Dow in place of Francis. With half as much time as “Lux”, this adaptation cuts to the basics.

This means we lose more characters from the movie and focus almost entirely on the leads. It offers an interesting curiosity and nothing more.

If one expects a stirring romance from One Way Passage, one will encounter disappointment. Slow and dull, the movie lacks real emotion. The Blu-ray comes with pretty good picture and audio as well as a few bonus materials. Chalk up Passage as a boring dud.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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