Spring is looming and you know what that means: wedding season. There is something beautiful about the optimism and joy of a wedding, and movies on the topic are usually light as well. Let's explore some films of the golden age with weddings as a central theme.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: Ah, William Powell and Myrna Loy. Just the mere thought of a pairing between these two notables can cause classic film buffs to salivate. Even the most casual film buffs know the names of these two, and often think of their films with fondness. So what of Double Wedding? This is perhaps one of the lesser known films featuring this formidable pair, but being the irresistible romantics that we are, we had to tackle it and see if any old chemistry is rekindled in this offering.
This time around, the plot centers on Charles Lodge (Powell), that sort of Greenwich Village boho that we see from time to time in late 30’s films. He’s well-travelled, artsy and lives a sort of nomadic lifestyle in an auto trailer. Meanwhile, Margit Agnew (Loy) is a successful, single businesswoman. The sort that so often in old films is portrayed as covering her desire for a husband with successful business acumen, but in modern times appears to be a just a modern business person. Maybe a feminist in her lack of desire to be tied down to a relationship, or at least what passes for a feminist in a late 30’s comedy from a major studio.
Anyway, I digress…Margit becomes enraged at Charles because he’s friendly with her younger sister, Irene (Florence Rice) and encourages the artistic pursuits of her and her fiancée of four years Waldo (John Beal). Fearing that their marriage, which she arranged, will be disrupted, Margit marches over to Charles’ trailer, where as you can imagine, over the last ninety minutes, sparks fly as Margit and Charlies quickly fall in love. The end result (no spoilers, but it’s the title of the movie…) is a double wedding with Margit, Charles, Irene and Waldo. As you can imagine, there are some amusing complications along the way, but we don’t want to give too many things away.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: Loy’s character is not very likeable, and though Powell’s is, they don’t have much romantic chemistry to make any burgeoning love story believable. It is mind-boggling that Waldo and Irene let Margit rule their lives so completely. You have to laugh at Waldo's chronic inability to stand up for himself.
Loy was miserable shooting the cramped trailer scenes which took three weeks to complete.
“Metro’s latest comedy opus Double Wedding is the biggest insult anyone could proffer to the supreme talents of the versatile and skillful stars,” said William McCauley of Springfield, Massachusetts. “It’s about time someone put an end to this whole goofy, zany slapstick idea. After all, we don’t want to go back to the old Keystone days.” Mrs. A.O. Jensen of the Silver Hill Theatre in Oshkosh, Nebraska called the movie, “Good, sophisticated slapstick, if you can figure that out.”
RB: Loy and Powell are always fun to watch, and this film is filled with a supporting cast of notable and fun side players including Edgar Kennedy and (especially) Sidney Toler a couple of years before he took over for Warner Oland, achieving lasting fame in the lead role of the Charlie Chan series for the next nine years or so. Toler’s role as a butler/amateur detective is genuinely funny. SG: I laughed out loud during several scenes. The play rehearsal in the bar with the menagerie of character actors is quite amusing, and Irving Lipschultz’s insane mugging while playing the violin made me chuckle. The rivalry between Margit and Kennedy’s character felt like an adlibbed afterthought, though adlibbing at this time was considered a sign of unprofessionalism so I would be shocked if it wasn’t scripted. Their animosity was funny but should have been peppered throughout the film rather than thrown in at the end.
RB: Robert Young and Robert Benchley were also considered for roles in the film, and if only an actress besides Myrna Loy were in the lead, it’s easy to picture Robert Benchley in the role of Charles. However, Loy had a major flop on her hands in the name of Parnell and knowing that pairing her with Powell would almost always mean box office gold, they paired them both into the film, even though neither were particularly interested in making it.
SG: If this film lacks the luster and cohesiveness of previous Powell/Loy pairings, it is understandable. “I hated that picture, although I may never have seen it,” Loy wrote in her memoir. “Perhaps it became the scapegoat for concurrent despair; during the filming, Jean Harlow died, leaving Bill and me absolutely devastated… I felt a shocking mixture of grief, guilt and frustration because I hadn’t been able to do what might have saved her: get her away from her mother for an examination… He blamed himself for Jean’s death: he had loved her but he hadn’t married her and taken her away from her mother.” One day, Powell was especially low and called Loy to tell her it was a “throat-cutting day.” Luckily when she arrived at his house, he had changed his mind. Powell and Harlow had been engaged; theirs would have been her fourth marriage, his third. He gave her a giant sapphire ring that she loved to flaunt. She was struggling to work on Saratoga with Clark Gable while her body bloated from kidney failure. Her mother was a Christian Scientist, and contemporaries blamed her mother’s belief in praying away ailments rather than seeking medical treatment for Jean’s death at 26. Others accused Harlow’s platinum hair dye. Two days after her death, the studio shut down so everyone could grieve. Harlow was a big moneymaker but she was also the pet and friend of the people she worked with and her loss was deeply felt.
“Knowing how the tragedy of Jean Harlow’s death had affected Mr. Powell, I expected to notice some difference in his acting, but, although I made a special effort to detect a difference, I was unable to do so,” wrote Mrs. C.E. Jones of Los Angeles. “Bouquets to a man who could make a nation laugh while he was experiencing a great sorrow.”
Ernest Hemingway was in town raising money to send to the Spanish Loyalists opposing facism in Europe. He and Powell hit it off and got drunk often during the shoot. Following the completion of Double Wedding, Powell took a three month European vacation to clear his head.
“How do you lock a tent?”
Notice the theater marquee down the street from Charles's trailer boasts Allan Jones and Maureen O’Sullivan in A Day at the Races with no mention of the Marx Brothers.
RB: I also noticed that marquee, and was reminded of how out of touch MGM could be about comedy. Imagine thinking that anyone would watch A Day at the Races for any reason besides the Marx Brothers.
SG: If I was introducing a neophyte to Loy and Powell, Double Wedding is far from the first film I'd select, but for those of us who enjoy their screen chemistry and want to see something different from the Thin Man series, it scratches the itch. Three stars.
RB: Ultimately, I agree that this is a lesser Loy/Powell pairing, but it is still enjoyable because of the chemistry that they have (even though, I agree with you that it is lesser than in other films) and my pleasure at seeing Edgar Kennedy and Sidney Toler popping up in supporting roles. For sheer breeziness, I will go three and a half stars for this outing featuring such popular stars.