The end of Double Wedding is no mystery, it’s right there in the title. Obviously, Powell and Loy are going to get married, along with another couple by the end. There are moments where the cast comes together to create magic, the finale especially, but the rest of the movie feels weak. Part of this could be attributed to the sudden death of Powell’s fiancée, Jean Harlow, which forced production to shut down for a while. It also could explain the overall air of strain that permeates events; the actors’ hearts just aren’t invested in a romantic comedy. The movie is good, but the story would be refined in other movies (and Loy’s character would find her legs in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer).
Charles Lodge (Powell) is an itinerant movie director with dreams of going to Hollywood. He enlists the help of the impressionable Irene Agnew (Florence Rice), who he believes he can make a star. Unfortunately, Irene’s domineering sister Margit (Loy) controls everything. Margit believes Charles is a bad influence on Irene and seeks to break up the relationship with the help of Irene’s pliable fiancée, Waldo (John Beal).
Almost everything having to do with Double Wedding is servicable, neither good nor bad. Director Richard Thorpe would go on to direct Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, while screenwriter Jo Swerling would work on Pennies From Heaven and Pride of the Yankees. I have to wonder how much of the film’s drab tone was the result of Powell grieving over Jean Harlow. Powell is exuberant throughout; he has to be since Lodge is such a manic presence, but there’s an exhaustion in his eyes and carriage as if he’s perpetually slouched. The rest of the actors, several of them C-listers to the A-list Powell and Loy, wait for their cues and lack any sense of spontaneity. Speaking of, Powell and Loy’s star quality really stands out against the rest of the cast, several of whom I’ve never heard of. It’s not to say there isn’t good acting on display, but the uptick in quality when Powell or Loy is in front of them is pronounced.
Loy’s character is the same hostile authoritarian as she was in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. In the latter, I found it funny that the script tried hard to have you believe Loy could never be the mother of a young Shirley Temple (she could have been). That’s removed here as Loy only appears to be a few years older than Florence Rice (2 years difference). The problem is there’s no backstory so it’s a tad weird to watch Loy call her sister and future brother-in-law “children” and tell them to shower with a bathing cap on. There’s overprotective and then there’s boy in the plastic bubble. I understand the script wants us to see her as an extreme Type-A personality, but Irene and Waldo are adults who I’m surprised were allowed to cross the street without holding hands. Loy is the catalyst for the plot, forcing Powell’s Charles to take matters into his own hands to get Loy to fall for him and have her loose her grasp on Irene. The relationship between Powell and Loy is antagonistic à la Libeled Lady (there goes another Jean Harlow reference). Their chemistry continues to swelter, and it should be since this was their seventh feature, but the wacky situations of the plot become a bit much. There appears to be a hilarious in-joke about Evelyn Prentice that I thought was worth sharing. When Margit asks her former G-man butler, Keogh (Sidney Toler) to investigate Charles, he asks if it’s because “Maybe you wrote some letters you wish you hadn’t.” Of course, anyone who’s watched Evelyn Prentice remembers letters were the entire crux of the narrative.
The side characters work well within the story, but they pale in comparison to the A-listers, and thus it’s easy to understand why they never carried movies on their own. Sidney Toler shines as the former G-man who “had Dillinger sewed up” several times. He’s one of a few zany characters that appears out-of-place in this weird screwball hybrid. The secondary lovers, played by Rice and Beal, are darling simply because of their cartoony qualities; Rice is the wholesome, All-American girl but you laugh at her high-pitched whine, while Beal is so pliable and easily coerced that when Margit tells him he’s getting married on a certain day, he’s prepared. There’s also a few hilarious sequences where Waldo is supposed to act like a passionate Arab sheik, and yet he possesses all the sensuality of a doorknob.
Double Wedding is what it is: a B-list screwball comedy with A-list stars who really carry the picture. Unfortunately, Powell and Loy don’t appear to be emotionally invested (possibly due to the script or Harlow’s death) and the cartoonish antics overpower the finale. It’s worth a watch if it’s on.
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