Before you get ahead of yourself I must warn that this is not a post about the Bing Crosby–Bob Hope road movie. This unsavory William Powell romance has nothing to do with the string of movies that all but trademarked the title “Road to …” . This flick came nine years prior to the comedic film of the same name that was the first in the duo’s series. If you find yourself inadvertently watching this movie, you’re sure to be displeased as not only does this Road to Singapore lack laughs, but it might be the least desirable character Powell has played.
On the boat to British-occupied Khota, a drunken Powell as Hugh Dawltry has been attempting to court Phillipa (Doris Kenyon) not knowing her travels are driven by a pending marriage to a doctor at the tropical locale, George March, played by a young Louis Calhern. Upon departure from the vessel, Dawltry escorts the young woman to what she thinks is her fiancée’s home only to discover she has actually been lured to the man’s own home. She resists his advances at this point and never tells her husband of it.
As the story goes along, Phillipa and George are married and live with George’s younger sister Rene (Marian Marsh). George hates Dawltry because gossip continues about how he broke up another woman’s marriage and the man is a notorious philanderer. Rene is openly fascinated by the man but Phillipa hides her growing interest. When both George and Rene are scheduled to leave town to deliver a patient, Phillipa accepts an invitation to Dawltry’s home where the two seemingly copulate. The patient, however, dies before the ship leaves, so George returns home to find his wife missing and a note from her lover on the dresser.
We are meant to feel pity for Phillipa and her unhappy marriage to a man who is far more interested in his career than his wife. The trouble is, Powell does not come off as the dashing answer to the woman’s woes. He is dishonest and offers no indication he will supply the love Phillipa’s life lacks, merely the passion. The ending gets a bit confusing as Dawltry is both confessing and denying his involvement in the notorious case of the other woman’s divorce. We cannot determine from either character’s emotions if they will flee together or if one or the other is not that interested. This therefore makes the ending not terribly satisfying as we think neither person is really that into the relationship.