One Way Passage (1932): Tay Granett’s Pre-Code Romantic Melodrama, Starring Kay Francis and William Powell (New Year’s Finale)

Directed by Tay Garnett, One Way Passage is a pre-Code romance, starring William Powell and Kay Francis as star-crossed lovers,

Robert Lord’s screenplay won the Best Story Oscar.

Powell plays Dan Hardesty, an escaped murderer on the run. In a Hong Kong bar, he mets Joan Ames, a terminally ill woman. In what will become a signature gesture for the couple, they share a drink, then Dan breaks the bowl of his glass, followed by Joan; they leave the stems crossed on the bar. Neither Joan nor Dan knows that the other is facing death.

San Francisco Police Sergeant Steve Burke captures Dan at gunpoint when he leaves the bar and escorts him aboard an ocean liner bound for San Francisco. Dan takes the key from Steve’s pocket and frees himself. Then he spots Joan among the passengers. He rescues floundering non-swimmer Steve rather than escape. Once the ship is underway, he persuades Steve to remove the handcuffs.

Two of Dan’s friends are also aboard, pickpocket Skippy and con artist “Barrel House Betty,” masquerading as “Countess Barilhaus.”

The countess distracts Steve as much as she can to help Dan. Just before the only stop, at Honolulu, Steve has Dan put in the brig, but Dan gets out with their help and goes ashore to arrange escape on a steamer leaving that night. Joan intercepts him as he leaves the ship, and they spend an idyllic day together. When they drive back to the dock that evening, Dan starts to tell her why he cannot return to the ship, only to see her faint. Dan carries her aboard for medical help and stays by her side, forfeiting his chance at escape. Later, Joan’s doctor tells Dan about her condition and that the slightest excitement or shock could be fatal. Dan tells the doctor the truth about himself.

Steve proposes the countess, wishing to give up being a cop and live on a ranch he owns.  She starts to tell him her true identity, but her confession is interrupted when a steward delivers a telegram to Steve. It is from his boss, telling him to find notorious con-woman Barrelhouse Betty and bring her in. He says nothing, as he still wants to marry her, and then throws the telegram overboard.

Steve and Dan get ready to disembark, an overcoat draped over the handcuffs. Joan goes to their cabin, where a steward who overheard the grim truth tells her about it. She frantically searches for Dan, and finds him with Steve.

The two lovers part for the last time without sharing each other’s secret; Joan collapses after Dan leaves. They had agreed to meet again a month later, on New Year’s Eve, at a bar in Agua Caliente, Mexico.

At the appointed time, the dance floor is full, but the bar is empty. The bartenders, startled by the sound of glass breaking, find the crossed stems and shattered pieces of two cocktail glasses on the bar.

William Powell as Dan Hardesty
Kay Francis as Joan Ames
Aline MacMahon as Betty, aka “Barrel House” Betty and “Countess Barilhaus” and Betty Crowley
Frank McHugh as Skippy
Warren Hymer as Steve Burke
Frederick Burton as The Doctor
Mike Donlin as Hong Kong bartender


I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on February 12, 2020.