August 17th, 2020

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  • vp19

Thursday, enjoy the power of Powell

OK, so my all-time favorite actress Carole Lombard isn't part of Turner Classic Movies' 2020 edition of "Summer Under The Stars" (she lost a TCM Backlots runoff to Claudette Colbert). At least we've got the next best thing -- my all-time favorite actor (and first Lombard husband) William Powell, who will get the 24-hour treatment from the channel this Thursday, Aug. 20.

None of Bill's three films with Carole, most notably "My Man Godfrey," are on the slate for Thursday. (They may have been on a Lombard schedule that day had she won.) Nevertheless, the list of films is a good one, showing many facets of Powell's terrific career. The 13-film schedule (all times Eastern):

* 6 a.m. -- "The Key" (1934). Powell's Warners swan song, set in British-occupied Ireland in 1920, with Bill as a British officer. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

* 7:30 a.m. -- "The Kennel Murder Case" (1933). The last (and best) of Powell's portrayals of sleuth Philo Vance, directed by Curtiz, with Mary Astor and future "Godfrey" cohort Eugene Pallette as a bumbling police officer and Vance's foil.
* 9 a.m. -- "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936). This year marked Powell's apex as an actor, but this inflated biopic, arguably the third-best of the five films he made in '36, was named best picture. It's the first of six* consecutive Powell collaborations with Myrna Loy this day.

* noon -- "The Thin Man" (1934). Less than a year after "Kennel" was released, Powell eclipsed that by portraying another literary detective, Nick Charles, and he and Loy as wealthy wife Nora would return for five more installments. The Charleses (and wire terrier Asta) made marriage fun -- if you had plenty of booze on hand and a murder to solve.
* 2 p.m. -- "Another Thin Man" (1939). Third in the series, Nick and Nora now have a son, a hint the films were gradually domesticating under Louis B. Mayer's watchful eye. Still a delight.
* 4 p.m. -- "I Love You Again" (1940). Amnesia at sea is a frequent comic concept (see either version of "Overboard" for proof), but this funfest with Bill as a small-town Chamber of Commerce type who reverts to his original wise-guy persona and Myrna as his wife who likes the change used this theme decades earlier. With Frank McHugh as comic relief.

* 6 p.m. -- "Libeled Lady" (1936). Supposedly Robert Osborne's favorite comedy, and certainly among mine too. Screwball newspaper hijinks with Powell, Loy (the titular character). Jean Harlow (then Bill's love interest) and Spencer Tracy. Lots of brilliant lines, not to mention Powell's nonpareil fishing scene.
* 8 p.m. -- "The Senator Was Indiscreet" (1947). This political satire starring Powell as a dimwitted senator yearning for his party's presidential nomination (which he hopes to gain via blackmail) was George F. Kaufman's only film as a director. Loy has a cameo, hence our earlier asterisk.
* 9:45 p.m. -- "Life With Father" (1947). Powell and Curtiz team once more for this gentle turn-of-the-century comedy where Bill plays an eccentric yet loving father in New York. Irene Dunne plays his wife, and a youthful Elizabeth Taylor is also in the cast.

* midnight -- "One Way Passage" (1932). Had Powell never teamed with Loy, it's likely that stately, stylish Kay Francis would've been Bill's best-known cinematic partner. They work beautifully here in this classy romantic drama, ably supported by McHugh and Aline MacMahon. A paradise cocktail to all.
* 1:30 a.m. -- "Jewel Robbery" (1932). Powell and Francis, from sublime to semi-ridiculous in this ersatz Lubitsch film. Bill's a non-violent jewel thief who subdues his foes with pot-laced cigarettes (the midnight-movie crowd would've loved this in the late '60s); Kay is a bored baroness captivated by him. Plenty of fun.
* 3 a.m. -- "Reckless" (1935). This so-so Powell-Harlow MGM vehicle, directed by Victor Fleming, also stars Franchot Tone, Rosalind Russell and a young Mickey Rooney.
* 4:45 a.m. -- "High Pressure" (1932). Back to Warners for our finale, a comedy where Powell's a promoter trying to sell artificial rubber. With McHugh, Guy Kibbee and Charles Middleton (years before he was Ming the Merciless).

"Everybody wants to be Cary Grant," he once said. "Even I want to be Cary Grant." Nothing against you, Cary, but I and many others would prefer to be William Powell.

Learn more about Bill at and
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