One Way Passage Blu-ray Review: Book This Voyage

When a convicted murderer gets extradited from Hong Kong to San Francisco, the last thing on his mind is falling in love. William Powell plays the con forced to set sail with a gruff arresting officer on a month-long cruise home. While preparing to embark, he meets a charming passenger named Joan (Kay Francis) and quickly falls in love, attempting to conceal his criminal past as he enjoys one last fling on the high seas. She has a big secret of her own, leading to a conclusion that may not be as expected, but is all the more moving for its surprise.

While Powell is the star, director Tay Garnett seems determined to highlight the comedic antics of a shady fellow traveler played by Frank McHugh, as well as a notorious scam artist named Barrel House Betty (Aline MacMahon). McHugh’s penniless drunk act gets old fast, although MacMahon’s attempts to pass her character off as a fancy baroness are mildly amusing.

Powell is reliably dapper and likeable, while Francis is adequate but brings nothing special to her role. Still, their chemistry is strong enough to keep us invested in their twisty attempts to cheat fate. At only 67 minutes in length, the story is a brisk and satisfying rollercoaster ride through an improbable romance set amongst the elegance of Depression-era high seas travel.

Picture quality is mostly superb, especially the brightness/contrast levels that present deep, dark blacks and brilliant whites. Occasional specks are still evident, but film grain is not. Edges of actors and objects appear somewhat jaggy instead of blurred, indicating that digital restoration may have gone a bit overboard in a quest to improve definition of source material that was almost certainly filmed a bit out of focus. Still, it’s a remarkably precise and judder-free effort. Sound quality is also exceptional, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.

The new Warner Archive Blu-ray contains a bevy of bonus features designed to replicate the theatrical experience of the film’s era. The primary feature is a half-hour live-action short from 1933 called Buzzin’ Around, one of star Fatty Arbuckle’s final works before his untimely demise that same year. It’s interesting to watch the disgraced silent film star attempting to mount his post-scandal comeback in the sound era. While there’s nothing particularly memorable about the pratfall-heavy comedic short (aside from some clumsily animated pesky bugs), the weary Arbuckle gets a glimmer of his former glory.

The disc also includes a very early black-and-white entry in the legendary animated Merrie Melodies series from the same year entitled A Great Big Bunch of You, so early that it predates the Leon Schlesinger production era that first introduced Warner Bros.’ recognizable stable of toon stars. Elsewhere, the disc includes two vintage radio versions of the feature film, both with performances by William Powell. The Lux Radio Theater version from 1939 is a full hour long and also includes Francis reprising her role, while the Screen Director’s Playhouse version from 1949 is abbreviated to a half hour with a replacement actress. A theatrical trailer is also included.

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Steve Geise

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