Pre-Code Profile: DOUBLE HARNESS (1933)

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! This month’s Pre-Code is another notable non-essential. These films, though not possessing some of the qualities that could make them worthy of being called seminal representations of the era, are nevertheless entertaining and worthy of our attention. Up this month is…


Double Harness (1933)


After tricking a playboy into marriage, a woman sets out to win his love honestly. Starring Ann Harding, William Powell, Lucile Browne, Henry Stephenson, Lilian Bond, George Meeker, and Reginald Owen. Screenplay by Jane Murfin. From the play by Edward Poor Montgomery. Directed by John Cromwell. Distribution by RKO Radio Poctures.


“After her extravagant, irresponsible sister Valerie marries, Joan Colby sets her sights on John Fletcher, a notorious San Francisco playboy… In spite of [her old fashioned father’s] disapproval, Joan pursues a romance with John and announces to Valerie that, while she does not love John, she intends to marry him… marriage is the business of women and that love is a complication to be avoided. Although John responds deeply to Joan, whom he regards as ‘virginal’ yet alluring, she worries that he will soon return to his previous lover, Monica. While Joan woos the marriage-wary John, Monica begins to telephone him and makes known her desire to rekindle their affair. Consequently, Joan arranges with Valerie to have their father show up at John’s apartment one night when she is alone with him. As hoped, the colonel is shocked and demands that John marry Joan immediately. Because Joan is willing, John agrees but, as he explains to Joan on their honeymoon cruise, intends to divorce her… in six months.”


Two months later, John is already feeling anxious about his captivity, but tells Joan he appreciates her efforts to make a legitimate businessman out of him. To that end, Joan has arranged with her father to have his friend, Oliver Lane, the postmaster general of the United States, meet John at a dinner party in the hope that Lane will grant the Fletcher shipping line a profitable government contract. At the same time, Valerie confides in Joan that she needs $1,000 to pay clothing debts but is afraid to ask for the money from [her husband], who has threatened to leave her because her extravagances have repeatedly landed her in debt… Valerie secretly asks John for a loan, lying that she needs $1,000 to cover household expenses… Overhearing John giving Valerie a check, Joan denounces her sister and demands that she grow up and resolve her financial problems on her own. Furious, Valerie reveals Joan’s marriage trick to John, and stricken by the truth, John leaves and goes to the waiting Monica.”


“Joan follows him to Monica’s and, after apologizing for her deception, confesses that she has truly fallen in love with him. Joan then returns home, where Lane and her other dinner party guests are waiting. To Joan’s delight, Lane agrees to give the absent John his business. Then, just after a drunken but repentant Valerie prepares to tell her husband the truth about her spending, John returns to his devoted wife, bringing her a box of gardenias, her favorite flower, to signify his love.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)





Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard entry! And tune in on Tuesday for more Dream On!

2 thoughts on “Pre-Code Profile: DOUBLE HARNESS (1933)

  1. While I do love the precode films and there are so many. Thank goodness for the the enforcement in 1934 because Hollywood was on the very tip of getting out of hand. Of course that is exactly what has happened now. Even with the rating system they have now there is no filter whatsoever. Everything you can imagine that was forbidden by the code is running rampant. Its change I guess but not for the better.

    • Hi, Matt! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think you’re right — it’s often easy to use salacity as a gimmick to distract from earnest character-driven drama. I am of the opinion that the enforcement of the Production Code in ’34 staved off the medium’s descent into poor taste (generally a good thing), but did so while removing a lot of the humanity that the Pre-Code era, including this film, uniquely offered.

      While the Code forced the studios to be more creative with their pictures’ utilization of violence and sex, honest reflections of contemporary morality gave way to an imposed projection of what a few people thought society should resemble. As a result, truth was de-emphasized, and it was harder to connect to the human subjects. Instead, we connected through the medium’s inherent glamour, escapism, and fantasy. Ideally, all these elements need to be reconciled against each other, and the Code didn’t ensure that.

      But I think DOUBLE HARNESS is an odd place to inspire such a discussion; the picture is far from controversial or offensive. This May’s Pre-Code Essential, MURDER AT THE VANITIES (1934), is a different story though — and makes a better case for how the Pre-Code era started to undermine its own human objectives. You can revisit my thoughts on the subject here.

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