The Manichean in the Garden

Double-Star: Genesis
August 9, 2007, 2:59 pm
Filed under: Loy, Wm. Powell

I’ve been watching so many movies lately (an interlibrary loan bonanza + the Film Noir Boxed Set vol. 4 + today’s featured item) that I’ve had no time at all for writing about ‘em!

But there’s nothing like a good, healthy disagreement to draw me away from the television and onto the keyboard!

The source of the disagreement? This article, by the web’s greatest DVD-reviewer, Glenn Erickson. Specifically, I object to The Savant’s hasty dismissal of one of my favourite Powell-Loy vehicles– Double Wedding (1937)

Now, I can’t claim to be objective in these matters, I love every single film this pair made together… although, as a part-time Hammett scholar, I can tell you that the Thin Man series–yes, even the first one!–does a terrible disservice to the source-novel, a pitch-black comedy which summed up the author’s worldview so well that he never bothered to do anything of substance ever again… I get annoyed because most academics seem to mistake the film for the book, and they treat Hammett’s oeuvre as if it really ends with The Glass Key… but I can’t stay mad at Powell & Loy, and their Nick ad Nora ARE very pleasant, in their own way…

Anyway, I have no such reservations about Double Wedding! I consider it an absolutely key entry in the P & L series, and one of MGM’s best comedies of the mid-thirties. Yes, the film IS maddeningly formless. That’s one of its glories! All it gives us are two great stars (surrounded, of course, by some of the greatest character people of the era–slow-burn master Edgar “I Ain’t No Ape” Kennedy, Jessie Ralph, Barnett Parker, Sidney Toler, and my beloved Katharine Alexander), each playing at the furthest reaches of their respective comedic ranges (the better to exemplify the “opposities attract” concept which here substitutes for a plot), on a collision course! (with exemplary patsies John Beal and Florence Rice caught in the middle)

For me, the joy of this movie is the way it distills the Powell and Loy personae down to their essences… (which is why I find it so hard to believe that Savant thinks the movie is miscast!) Powell IS a debonair non-conformist/clown… Loy is THE incarnation of amiably mocking respectability (and she is amiable in this film–even at her most systematic) Yes, both of these actors could (and, usually, did) incorporate other, more complex elements into their portrayals. Star acting is variation upon a theme, but in Double Wedding we get the theme itself!

Can you picture anyone but Powell getting so much mileage out of the stuff with the gong? (”You mustn’t! It’s for the telephone”–I’ve been using that “you mustn’t”, in my best approximation of the slightly demented intonation Powell reads it with, whenever things aren’t going my way, for years now) And Loy gets almost as many opportunities to shine. Her deadpan recitation of Waldo Beaver’s family lineage nicely anticipates the dementedly overlong disquisition upon housepaint in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and could not have been delivered by any other actress that I know of.

And it’s not as if the two stars are always doing their own respective things in a vacuum, apart from each other–their scenes in the trailer (especially the one that is punctuated by her question: “Do you take dope?”) are excellent, although it IS true that the sympatico banter which defines P & L in the public’s mind is completely absent from Double Wedding. They are not merely playfully adversarial in this film (as in the early scenes of Libeled Lady), but really, genuinely, philosophically at odds, each as yet untouched by the constellational bond which holds their wildly disparate personae together in every other film! But again, that’s why I love this movie–it shows us just how miraculous this teaming really is, by giving us a taste of what each star would be like, in her/his own orbit, and leaves the banter we know to play out in our imaginations after the credits roll.

good afternoon friends!