"The Runaway Princess" is a charming piece of fluff: as contemporary reviewers observed, the story itself is the slightest of fantasy materials, with the humour and detail of the handling providing the chief attraction of the film, while the London location sequences provide a rich background -- one even more fascinating to modern audiences, of course, than to its original viewers. There are echoes of "Underground" in the scenes with workaday Londoners, and an unexpected visual flight of fantasy as the pursuit along a crowded pavement is intercut with allusions to greyhound racing, but on the whole this picture shares little of the moody tension and realism of Asquith's two previous films; it is consciously cast in a very different vein, that of the romantic comedy.
Misunderstandings and confused identity abound from beginning to end, adorning the slender ribbon of plot, and Asquith's trademark quiet humour and attention to minor characters are in evidence throughout. I must confess that I saw the big twist coming more or less from the start -- there is just no other reason for that deliberately constrained camera movement, when coupled with a stranger who waylays the heroine quite deliberately in the park -- but the reaction at the police station is still enjoyable, and the final denouement believable: 'credible', in the context of this sort of story, is of course completely irrelevant!
Mady Christians' baby-faced appeal, though very much in tune with its era, isn't really to my taste -- Norah Baring's dark, subtle elegance is far more striking -- but it is appropriate to the role. Likewise, Paul Cavanagh as her pursuer is rather too heavily made-up to the modern eye: but both are sufficiently talented performers to convey attraction anyway and earn our goodwill. Miss Baring stands out as the female crook, establishing feline intelligence and untrustworthy beauty from her first expressive movements, while Claude H. Beerbohm projects a Javert-like intensity as the sharp-faced detective. Meanwhile, a host of uncredited minor characters -- from the dragon-like lady in waiting to the worldly head waiter ("Princess..? No, film star!") and the harassed desk sergeant -- fill out the screen in effective vignettes.
Ultimately I feel the film suffers a little for its total lack of depth; it carries no great charge of intensity in any direction, even that of laughter -- all is amiable froth. Asquith had done better in his career, and would do better again. But if surface is all there is, at least the surface is blithely entertaining: this twentieth-century fairytale derives its charm from the circumstantial detail of its heroine's misadventures without any suggestion that she may be touched by real distress, and ends in sunny fashion as all good fairy tales should end: happily ever after.
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