The Princess Comes Across (1936)

by Paul on October 13, 2012

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The Princess Comes Across is a 1936 comedic mystery film directed by William K. Howard. I have always loved the underused combination of comedy and mystery in a film, even if it isn’t used as often as it should. Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray make a great team, and their screen chemistry is undeniable. This was the second of four films that they made together and their ease with each other on the screen makes the sometimes-slow dialogue seem wittier and moreThe Princess Comes Across enjoyable.

Aspiring actress Wanda Nash (Carole Lombard) poses as the Swedish princess, Olga, in order to obtain a Hollywood movie contract. Along with her “fake” Lady Gertrude (Alison Skipworth), she boards the ocean liner “Mammoth” for her journey to America. Also on board is a professional concertina player, King Mantell (Fred MacMurray), and his trusty bodyguard, Benton (William Frawley). With no knowledge of Wanda’s true identity, King falls helpless to “the princess’” charms, even when a career blackmailer on board turns up murdered, and the two most likely suspects are Wanda and King. He does everything in his power to protect her from scandal, even if it means trouble for himself.

I love movies that combine comedy and mystery. They typically have great stories, but keep things light and enjoyable at the same time. Having been released in 1936, The Princess Comes Across was in the shadow of possibly the greatest comedic mystery of all time, The Thin Man. Although The Princess Comes Across isn’t as good as The Thin Man, it The Princess Comes Acrossstill offers many things that make it amusing. For one thing, we get Fred MacMurray singing. I realize that this isn’t the only time in his career he took to singing (I grew up watching one of my favorites,  The Happiest Millionaire), but I haven’t experienced his singing this early in his career. He has a nice voice that although might not sell a million albums, when you combine his singing with his natural acting ability, MacMurray was obviously going to be a Hollywood star for many years to come. (And this was before his career best, and completely different role, in Double indemnity (1944) as well.)

Carole Lombard is her typical hysterical self; only she adds the unmistakable accent of Greta Garbo in the mix as well. There is absolutely no way to watch Lombard perform with a Garbo accent without smiling constantly. I honestly don’t know how she did it with a straight face. This film shows Carole’s innate ability to be the character in the film that is breaking the law, and yet somehow she is still able to obtain our sympathy.The Princess Comes Across

The problem with The Princess Comes Across is that the film doesn’t seem to flow as well as it could have. The first half is straightforward comedy, and then suddenly half way through the film everything stops abruptly and turns into a mystery. It seems that it would have played better if there had been a continuous combination of the two throughout the film. Instead, by the end of the film, I seemed to forget about the humor at the beginning.

Still entertaining and fun, The Princess Comes Across is lighthearted enough to watch without having to stay focused, and would certainly be worth watching…especially if you can catch it on T.V.

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