One Way Passage Starring William Powell: A Guest Movie Review

One Way Passage (1932) movie review: Guest blogger Angela Petteys writes about the 1932 classic One Way Passage:

When Dan (William Powell) meets Joan (Kay Francis) in a bar in Hong Kong, it’s love at first sight.  They have a drink together, but end up going their separate ways. What neither of them realizes is that the other doesn’t have much time to live.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but Joan is extremely sick.  She’s about to set sail for San Francisco so she can go to a sanitarium, but there’s a good chance she won’t survive the trip.  Dan is a murderer on the run from the law and gets arrested by Steve Burke (Warren Hymer) as soon as he leaves the bar that night.  Steve’s going to take Dan back to San Francisco, where he will be executed.

As fate would have it, Dan and Joan wind up on the same boat to California.  Joan’s doctor wants her to spend the trip resting, but she knows she doesn’t have much time left so she wants to live it up while she can.  When she finds out Dan is on board and has been looking for her, she ignores the doctor’s orders and spends all the time she can with Dan.  She remains in the dark about his criminal background, and he has no idea about her illness, but they are madly in love with each other.  Dan is able to spend so much time with Joan thanks to some help from his criminal friends Skippy (Frank McHugh) and Betty (Aline MacMahon).  Betty is on board posing as a countess so she and Skippy keep distracting Steve so that Dan can be with Joan.  But Betty ends up spending so much time with Steve that they also end up falling in love.

When the ship makes a stop in Honolulu, Dan and Joan spend an unforgettable day ashore together and Dan wants to come clean to her about his past.  But just as he’s about to break the news, she faints and he takes her back to the ship.  Her doctor warns Dan that any more shocking news could kill her, so Dan keeps his secret.  She ends up discovering the truth about Dan just before the ship docks in San Francisco and, naturally, she’s surprised.  But that doesn’t stop her from saying goodbye to Dan and agreeing to meet him at a bar in Mexico on New Year’s Eve, even though they both know they won’t be able to keep the date.

What’s not to like about One Way Passage?  Kay Francis and William Powell were perfection in it.  Their chemistry together was superb and both of them give excellent performances.  Powell in particular gives one of the best performances of his career.  Aline McMahon and Frank McHugh make the supporting cast every bit as memorable as Powell and Francis.  I loved the very dreamlike atmosphere of the movie.  One Way Passage is a prime example of those early 1930s gems that aren’t very long, but make every single second count.  If you haven’t already seen it, definitely be sure to keep an eye out for it.  I know I wish I had seen it sooner.

Angela runs the blog The Hollywood Revue and is a classic film enthusiast from Detroit. To keep up with the latest from The Hollywood Revue, please join her on Facebook.

  • Joel

    Wonderful film!  They just don’t make them like that anymore.  Francis and
    Powell were terrific in their interaction.  Highly recommend.

  • Robert

    Almost anything Powell did was good. I’ve yet to see anything where Kay Francis wasn’t as wooden as a drugstore Indian. She invariably turned my suspension of  disbelief into a bona fide conviction.

  • Wayne P.

    Powell is as close to great as any male lead got in the Golden Age of the Studios!  Kay Francis was given mostly bad parts after she let it be know she wanted out of her contract with Warner Bros., but in this film, she nailed it; just like she did in Comet over Broadway and In Name Only, with Cary Grant.

  • Gemini09

    Will have to seek this film out as I have never seen it. Love William Powell especially in the Thin Man series.

  • Bjodrie

    There is a Humphtey Bogart radio show version of One Way Passage.Theater Of Romance 12/18/1945.

  • kc88

    I was super glad to have caught it during TCM’s annual Summer Under The Stars this past August! It was the first time I’ve seen the film or any Kay Francis. Throughout the film I was just mesmerized and got swept by the story. I have not seen as lovely couple as Powell and Francis- they create magic in the scenes together and the ending is pure romance at its best. Loved it!!!!

  • JackJones

    A mostly unknown gem. It’s been an especial favorite of mine for years.

  • sugarpussoshea

    Even tho’ this can seem somewhat dark – Tay Garnett, the director, “conjours” up an upbeat ending. I have been a fan of Wm Powell’s from earliest remembrances – but this is the one that introduced me to  Kay Francis.  I cudn’t believe she had been “hidden” for so many yrs.  It’s unbelievable that Warner Bros literally threw her away.  This one with Trouble in Paradise and Jewel Robbery (also w/Wm Powell) are so gr8 – they make up most of her career anyway.
    Even tho’ this is the best – I also enjoy the remake – Til the end of Time…..with Merle Oberon and Geo Brent.  This one has Skippy playing the same part — only he has beefed it up a bit and calls himself Rocky T Rockingham. But Binnie Barnes can’t seem to improve on Aline’s “Barrel House Betty”:.
    One of the really gr8 “cruise movies”……..