Much of Double Wedding–around two-thirds of it–is a supreme comedy. It might feature William Powell’s best comedic performance, just because of the limitless opportunity it offers him. It’s hard to top Powell in a fur coat and a fake wig… with a German accent (and a walking stick). Or Powell going through a big demonstration of how sidekick John Beal should win back his fiancée (who’s now in love with Powell). A crowd gathers to watch Powell and Beal and it’s the most natural thing–who wouldn’t want to watch Powell in this film.
The script gives him a lot of freedom–his character is revealed (a little) throughout, so there’s very little constraint on him. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t have thought Powell could have done the Peter Pan bohemian painter but he does it great. Double Wedding even makes a joke at expense of the dignified characters he more often portrayed in a spectacular little scene.
There’s a lot of dialogue in Double Wedding, which is probably not from the source play (given it was probably written in Hungarian). The actors have some lengthy deliveries–starting with Myrna Loy’s hilarious explanation of how she’s related to Beal. It’s so confusing, it’s hard not to see the connections drawing out in the mind’s eye… just to keep up with Loy, whose delivery is wonderful. But Beal and Powell also have some long monologues and both are a joy to watch.
Beal’s character, quiet and reserved, gets these great situations–often when he’s got to explain why he’s acting passive, but the ones where he nears his boiling point are funny too. He has good chemistry with the object of his affections, played by Florence Rice. So it’s too bad when she disappears a third into the film, since Powell’s got Loy to romance, not her. It’s hard to even remember Rice is around, especially during some of the sequences with Sidney Toler, as Loy’s dimwitted butler who fancies himself a detective and spies on Powell for her. Powell gets the aforementioned beard from Toler, who’s trailing him in disguise.
The various absurdities in Double Wedding–along with a couple convenient revelations–create a fanciful atmosphere. It’s like the film anticipates what the viewer wants to see happen and delivers. Loy and Powell, for instance, have a romantic scene in the forest and it turns comedic at just the right moment–and then the film doesn’t stick with it too long, director Thorpe gets out at the ideal moment.
I’m sure I’ve seen other films of Thorpe’s before, but his direction here is very impressive. He knows how to use the actors well, even when it’s as simple as walking across a room or glancing into a mirror. And Thorpe manages to keep the rather large and out of control conclusion together, which is a significant feat.
The ending is where Double Wedding falls apart. It relies on standard comedy pacing instead of doing its own thing, it follows the standards instead of writing them–the first two-thirds is unlike anything else and the last third is extremely comfortable. The film stops before the story’s done, but also before the viewer is ready for it to be over. The tedious final act, with its paltry pay-off, is okay… however, the film raised expectations much higher.
And I can’t forget Loy. The third act really fails her, in terms of material. She becomes a fifth wheel in her own film.