Pre-Code Crazy at the TCM Film Fest: Double Harness (1933)

When I viewed this month’s TCM “Now Playing” Guide and saw that Double Harness was airing, I knew in a flash that it would be my Pre-Code Crazy pick for May. Not only is it a first-rate pre-Code that stars two of my favorite performers, but it was also screened at the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival! Win, win, win!

Double Harness stars Ann Harding (and if you’re not familiar with this talented actress, you simply must check her out!) as Joan Colby, who has very definite ideas on the subject of marriage. According to Joan, marriage is a woman’s business, and love has nothing to do with it – love is an emotion, she maintains.

The look of love.

The look of love. Or, you have something in your hair. (One of these.)

“A man doesn’t let emotion interfere with his business,” Joan explains. “And if more women would learn not to let emotion interfere with theirs, fewer of them would end up in the divorce court.”

Joan sets her matrimonial sights on her lover John Fletcher (William Powell), a wealthy playboy who is allowing his family’s shipping business to slip down the tubes. Despite Joan’s firm convictions, she soon finds that she has fallen for John. Since John makes no secret of the fact that he’s not the marrying kind, Joan employs trickery to coerce him into a walk down the aisle, and enlists her sister, Valerie (Lucile Browne), to aid her in her scheme.

Joan is very clever, according to Monica. And she oughta know.

After Joan’s father “accidentally” finds her in a state of undress in John’s apartment, John takes the noble road and marries Joan, but in a strikingly civil exchange on their honeymoon, Joan learns that John expects her to divorce him.  He only agreed to marry her because of the ease in securing a divorce, he tells her, adding that “I assumed that your sportsmanship would at least be equal to mine.” Although the two decide that Joan will wait six months before filing the papers, Joan doesn’t throw in the towel – instead, she works on being the ideal wife, from showing their cook how to prepare delicious dishes, to encouraging John to regain his interest in his family’s business. She even displays grace under pressure when she discovers John dining with his former girlfriend, Monica Page (Lilian Bond). Rather than cause a scene or undertake a furtive exit from the restaurant, Joan graciously greets the pair and actually invites Monica to their home for an upcoming dinner party. After Joan’s departure, even Monica has to grudgingly admit, “She’s a very clever woman.”

Valerie is the kind of little sister who is in dire need of a noogie.

Valerie is the kind of little sister who is in dire need of a noogie.

Just when John begins to realize that he returns the love Joan has for him, Joan’s sister, Valerie, pops up with the proverbial monkey wrench in hand. Valerie, incidentally, is Joan’s diametric opposite; flighty and an enthusiastic proponent of the cocktail hour (if you know what I mean), she’s also quite fond of the material things in life, even if she doesn’t have the means to pay for them. When her overspending habits cause a rift in her marriage, Valerie first turns to Joan for financial aid, and when her sister is all tapped out, Valerie puts the squeeze on John – and it’s this action that sets in motion a series of events that you’ll just have to see for yourself.

I’ve only seen Double Harness twice – the first time was a couple of years ago, and then at the recent TCM film fest – but it is fast moving up my list of favorite pre-Codes. Ann Harding is quietly luminous; her character is at once intelligent, vulnerable, thoughtful, and tenacious. And, then there’s William Powell, who adds panache to any film and, for me, is more attractive and appealing in this film than any other. These two are more than ably backed by the film’s supporting cast, especially Bond, who’s perfectly cast as Powell’s nice-nasty former flame, and Browne, who will make you want to give her Valerie a swift kick. Or a sharp slap. Either one.

Double Harness is airing on TCM on May 27th – do yourself a huge favor and check it out. You won’t be sorry.


Don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is covering for this month!

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 9, 2016.

10 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy at the TCM Film Fest: Double Harness (1933)”

  1. I almost choked with laughter on my lunch at this: “enthusiastic proponent of the cocktail hour”. Brilliantly said!

    I’ve not seen this film – missed it at TCMFF – but it sounds like a must see…especially if William Powell is in it. Thanks!

  2. Must catch this as I’d like to see more of Ann Harding whose career seemedto go into serious decline very quickly.

    • I need to read about Ann Harding’s life and career — I know next to nothing about her, just that she gave some great performances and then kinda dropped off the face of the cinematic earth! (BTW, Double Harness is on You Tube!)

  3. I’ve seen this one before too so I wasn’t overly broken up when I missed it at TCMFF, but I still want to revisit it asap. Great stars!

    • It does have some great stars — and I just stumbled upon some information about the actor who played the owner of the boutique where Ann Harding and her sister and father were shopping at the start of the film — his name is Jean (sometimes spelled Gene) Malin. Interesting stuff!

  4. […] post focuses on the screening of Double Harness, a 1933 pre-Code gem that I discuss in detail here, as it was one of my monthly Pre-Code Crazy pics last year. The story surrounding this film was a […]

  5. […] up is my favorite film of the three, which I covered previously on this blog, after having the opportunity to see it on the big screen at the Turner Classic Movies Film […]

  6. […] was one of the most popular films offered at the 2016 TCM festivaI – it was shown at two separate screenings and had to turn away festgoers at each one. (I was […]

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