The Princess Comes Across

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: William K. Howard
Writers: Louis Lucien Rogger; Philip MacDonald;
  Frank Butler, Walter DeLeon, Don Hartman, Francis Martin

  • Carole LombardPrincess Olga / Wanda Nash
  • Fred MacMurrayKing Mantell
  • George Barbier — Captain Nicholls
  • William Frawley — Benton
  • Porter Hall — Robert M. Darcy
  • Bradley Page — The Stranger
  • Alison Skipworth — Lady Gertrude Allwyn
  • Mischa Auer — Inspector Morevitch
  • Douglass Dumbrille — Inspector Lorel
  • Lumsden Hare — Inspector Cragg
  • Tetsu Komai — Inspector Kawati
  • Sig Rumann — Inspector Steindorf

Paramount Pictures: 1936
black & white; 77 minutes

October 2010

Romantic comedy & suspense thriller

The Princess Comes Across has long been one of my favorite films for its superb mixture of romantic comedy, grand chicanery, blackmail, murder mystery, and detection. Character, guise, and wit are all integral to the plot. The acting is wonderful, with Fred MacMurray and Carole Lombard sparkling together. Of the fine supporting cast, I'll mention particularly MacMurray's bluff sidekick William Frawley, Lombard's partner-in-deceit Alison Skipworth, oily blackmailer Porter Hall, and cosmopolitan detectives Sig Rumann and Mischa Auer.

Princess Olga of Sweden, sailing from France to America accompanied by her lady in waiting, is not entirely what she seems. The unraveling of this by musical entertainer (he's a bandleader and accordion star) King Mantell begins almost immediately, but the tangle and its ramifications permeate the entire movie. Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray each handle characters of some complexity and subtlety here, with Lombard essentially playing a dual role as Princess Olga and Wanda Nash. Their companions Frawley and Skipworth lend considerable solidity. All this comes across very well.

A second plot-line, unrelated at the beginning, involves a wanted man, a major criminal in France, who we learn by radio report is aboard the ocean liner. His appearance is not known precisely as he is a master of disguise, and could be almost anyone aboard. Before long both King Mantell and Princess Olga are entangled in the police inspectors' hunt for the criminal, whose desperation soon makes the voyage deadly dangerous.

The five police inspectors, crossing the Atlantic for a conclave, are each from a different country ("a regular League of Nations" as my father would say). Given the complexity of the story and the limitations of film footage, none of their parts can be large, but they add a nice breadth to the film. The mystery is suspenseful and develops rapidly, pulling in both Princess Olga and King Mantell as well as their companions.

As sketched above, this is a lot of film for an hour and a quarter: in characters, plot, and dialogue. The several meanings in the phrase "comes across" — the Atlantic Ocean crossing, erotic-emotional surrender, and truth-telling — all have their roles to play. The Princess Comes Across is an altogether fine and entertaining presentation of talents, very enjoyable.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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