One Way Passage is an implausible pre-code melodrama about a couple who fall in love on a cruise ship. The implausibility comes in because he just happens to be on his way to death row and she is dying of a fatal disease. I guess prisoner transport ain't what it used to be, eh?
Even with the contrived premise, it's a genuinely moving scenario, and really ups the ante on the holiday romance genre. It's not enough that they fall in love on vacation and can never be together. They have to die as well. The movie manages, due to a short 70 minute run time to keep a brisk pace as well as providing adequate character development. Powell's character plans to escape from his captors when the boat lands in Hawaii with the help of two con-artist accomplices, Skippy and Barrel House Betty, (Aline MacMahon and Frank McHugh), but decides to return to the ship when Francis collapses.
Francis and Powell had great chemistry together and their scenes are light and breezy with an undertow of angst. Francis doesn't seem particularly sick. She faints twice, but that isn't an inordinate amount of swooning even for a healthy ingenue in old movies. I think it's rare when an actor who is supposedly dying in a movie actually looks sick so I'm willing to forgive it. MacMahon McHugh provide some necessary comic relief as the scheme behind the scenes to get the couple together. Warren Hymer as the cop who is Powell's guardian manages a layered performance as he gradually comes to like Powell's character, but still has to do his duty.
An interesting historical footnote about One-Way Passage is that it takes place on a cruise ship during prohibition. All the characters drink non-stop including our lovers who literally bump into one another and spill their drinks. Cocktails actually become an obvious metaphor for their love affair, which is interesting, I think given that drinking was still technically illegal in the United States. I guess there must have a booze cruise mentality and that one of pleasures of boat travel was being able to drink legally in international waters.
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