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A Swedish princess boards an ocean liner in Europe en route to an acting career in America, and finds herself getting inconveniently attached to a bandleader returning home. To complicate matters, a blackmailer on board apparently knows she is not who she claims to be - and he has his sights set on other passengers with secrets of their own. In the meantime an escaped killer has stowed away under someone else's identity, and is killing again to cover his tracks; five international police detectives on board are heading the investigation to find him. When evidence points to the princess and bandleader, they must find the killer themselves - before he finds them. Written by
THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (William K. Howard, 1936) ***
This is a delightful blend of zany comedy and murder mystery, almost completely set aboard ship and featuring a most excellent cast, though perhaps not quite a classic mainly because the thriller element lacks the touch of sophistication associated with THE THIN MAN (1934), which was the prototype of this style at the time.
Carole Lombard and Alison Skipworth are unemployed New York actors posing as Swedish royalty to attract a film contract (hence the title with the star supplying a delicious parody of Greta Garbo); Fred MacMurray and William Frawley are a concertina player and his manager, respectively; George Barbier is the ship's captain; Porter Hall is a slimy blackmailer who preys on three of the ship's passengers (the fraudulent Lombard, MacMurray with a spell in jail behind him and another who's a murderer impersonating a missing passenger though the stranger seen prowling about intermittently is eventually revealed as a red herring); conveniently on board is an international convention of detectives comprising Douglass Dumbrille (French), Sig Rumann (German), Mischa Auer (Russian), Lumsden Hare (British) and Tetsu Komai (Japanese).
When Hall turns up dead (the shadowy lighting in this scene, courtesy of cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff, is actually rather striking) and a passenger list in his pocket bears a mark near Lombard and MacMurray's names, naturally they arouse the detectives' suspicion despite Barbier's attempts to keep the Princess out of such indiscretions. Typically, MacMurray and Frawley carry out their own sleuthing though Rumann is actually the first to get to the truth, but doesn't live long enough to reveal the identity of the killer to his associates! So, in an effort to distract the murderer's attention off Lombard, MacMurray who, naturally, has fallen for the leading lady (even after he becomes aware of her less-than-regal/foreign-origins) declares that he has solved the case, fully expecting a rendezvous with the guilty party but counting on pal Frawley to bail him out at the last minute.
There are plenty of amusing situations throughout (notably the scene in which Frawley is derided by fellow passengers for wearing a French painter's cap) and witty repartee (particularly as delivered by Skipworth and Auer), but also some genuine tension at the climax (even if the final unmasking of the villain hardly proves a surprise) not to mention a musical number from MacMurray!
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