Friday, May 18, 2007

Screened: "The Princess Comes Across" (1936)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen first we see Carole Lombard in The Princess Comes Across, she is vamping. Hard. "My name iss Princess Olga of Sveeden," she says, staring - nay, glaring - down her nose in the iciest way possibly, sounding for all the world like Great Garbo.

And there's me, in the dark in more ways than one, thinking: "What the F?"

Lombard is a workhorse among comediennes; she keeps up the Garbo shtick throughout most of the first act, so convincingly, in fact, that once the initial shock is worn off you almost start believing her. When finally her ruse is exposed, though, it's a relief; running gags of this nature tend to be a bit tiring for the viewer. Waiting for the other shoe to drop can become stressful, which can erode the whole "comedy" thing.

It is, however, an apt metaphor for the movie as a whole, because nothing (and indeed, no one) in The Princess Comes Across is as they seem.

In addition to the ample surprises to follow (which, for an avid viewer of 30s movies such as myself, well-acquainted with all the formulae inherent therein, is reason enough to watch) there are a handsome leading man (Fred MacMurray) whose lithe frame is fitted out in all manner of yummy suits, a pair of reliable villains (Porter Hall and Douglass Dumbrille), and a veteran character actress (Alison Skipworth), with whom all and sundry may toss around barbs.

There's even an appearance by a future television legend - seen here years before the advent of the device that would bring about his most enduring fame: William Frawley, better known as Fred Mertz of I Love Lucy, is to MacMurray what Skipworth is to Lombard - a cynically wise sidekick.

Naturally, being of its era, the film is stylishly photographed, and though it's set almost entirely onboard a ship the sets are lovely.

The Princess Comes Across is, in many ways, an odd movie, one which doesn't lend itself to a single viewing perhaps. Since it eschews (indeed, thumbs its nose at) convention to a large extent, as well as trying to wring comedy out of murder, it might be uncomfortable for some to watch.

So is it a funny movie with creepy moments, or a thriller with levity? Whether it's both or neither, it is a curiosity nonetheless.
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