Another Time, Another Place

One Way Passage, surrounded by lush dance music and revelers, before the bar of a Hong Kong nightclub, Joan Ames, played by the incomparable Kay Francis, and Dan Hardesty, played by suavity personified, William Powell, bump – literally – into each other. The attraction is immediate, intense – and as jarring as the bump. They share a few drops, those not spilled – in the bump – from Dan's glass, of an exotic concoction, romantically labeled a "Paradise Cocktail." Jarred, again, this time from paradise and back to reality, Joan asks if Dan would care to meet the people in her party; Dan demurs with a courtly, poetic and, we later discover, prophetic comment about the few drops of paradise allowed them by Fate. Smiling and gracious, Joan attempts a conventional good-bye; Dan counters with an exquisitely pronounced "Auf Wiedersehen," on which vocabularic premise the film's remaining sixty-some minutes proceed. It is a profoundly touching moment in one of Cinema's most poignant offerings.

Those of us who converse in English get the idea of auf Wiedersehen; absent the input of a certain German-born gentleman, a fellow web-journalist, I shall attempt an Americanized translation, aided by
The Free Dictionary's explanation: see/dig you later; so long. Auf translating to until and Wiedersehen to seeing again communicates a temporary, rather than a final, goodbye. In 1932, the year of release for One Way Passage, as the Great Depression was tightening its grip on the United States, songwriters Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart, Ed Nelson and Milton Ager offered a tender reassurance for a beaten populace that had found itself bidding, to concepts and possessions as well as to people, too many permanent goodbyes – the beautiful "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear." Interestingly, the film that directly preceded One Way Passage for both William Powell and Kay Francis, the naughtily delightful Jewel Robbery – glaringly, gloriously Pre-Code, with its marijuana cigarettes (I'm shocked!) and casual attitude toward the bonds of matrimony – features prominently the lilting, lovely "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear" amid the struttings of impudent and debonair jewel thief Powell and not fanatically married baroness Francis. Though One Way Passage employs the equally sentimental Al Dubin-Franke Harling "Where Was I?" as the love theme for doomed lovers Dan Hardesty and Joan Ames, Powell's delicate dropping of the German version of the French à bientôt is, we can be sure, a nod to "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear" the popular song.

These last few days, with my recently purchased
Epiphone (OK, scoff, Gibson snobs) acoustic, I've been kicking "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear" around the parlour. I love its melody – importunate but gentle. Though I don't croon the now sadly archaic, other-worldly words, "Come, let us stroll down Lover's Lane ..." I feel as if, in merely plucking the notes, I'm speaking in a foreign tongue. Does anyone relate to such sincere, sensitive sentiment today? I don't imagine many, if any, would care to hear my rubato renderings of '20's, '30's and '40's romantic ballads – so I don't take to the trail, guitar case in hand.

Italian-American crooner and musical prodigy (and, at the time of his death, fiance of Carole Lombard) Russ Columbo introduced me to "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear." I've since heard no interpretation of this song to equal his. Dead, at 26, in 1934, Russ, like me, "Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear," William Powell, Kay Francis, Pre-Code Cinema ... and a lot of other things, belongs to another time and another place.

Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear
Music and Words by
Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart, Ed Nelson
Milton Ager

It happened in Vienna;
If you were there, you'd see
Two lovers in the moonlight,
Beneath a linden tree.

Sweet violins were playing;
And to his love, the lad was saying:

Come, let us stroll down Lover's Lane,
Once more to sing love's old refrain.
Soon we must say, "Auf Wiedersehen,
Auf Wiedersehen," my dear.

Here in your arms I can't remain,
So let me kiss you once again.
Soon we must say, "Auf Wiedersehen,
Auf Wiedersehen," my dear.

Your love will cling to me,
Through the lonely daytime.
Each night will bring to me
The magic memory of Maytime.

I know my heart won't beat again
Until the day we meet again.
Sweetheart, goodbye, auf Wiedersehen,
Auf Wiedersehen, my dear.