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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
Somehow, when thinking of movie couples in the golden age of film, Carole Lombard's partnership with Fred MacMurray gets overlooked. Not as glamorous as Tracy and Hepburn, Hepburn and Grant, Grant and Dunne, Eddy and MacDonald, MacDonald and Chevalier, Bogart and Bacall, it still got tremendous mileage in comedies (HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE, TRUE CONFESSIONS), comic thrillers (THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS), and straight drama (SWING HIGH, SWING LOW). Lombard had the ability to make the film's activities soar by her zaniness. MacMurray managed to anchor the film down by his normality (and in TRUE CONFESSIONS uses this normality against itself - by taking himself too seriously).
THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS made fun of thrillers (although the dangers involved are not made funny), and of the culture of publicity that the public thrives on. Lombard has the looks and talents to make it in movies, but nobody cares. With the help of Alison Skipworth she pretends she is Princess Olga of Sweden and she wants to act in movies. Besides the spoofing of Garbo, Lombard is counting on the vast publicity from the media to get her the million dollar contract she wants. Oddly enough, the Swedish royal family does not seem to care that a fraud is being perpetrated by Lombard and Skipworth at their expense. But we have to make some concession to the plot.
MacMurray is a well known musician (a concertina player of all things) and orchestra leader. He and his manager pal, William Frawley, are on the boat as well, and MacMurray is very interested in the beautiful, but snobbish Princess. However, he has another problem. MacMurray is an honest fellow, but he did one bad thing, and he is being pursued by an obnoxious little weasel (played superbly by Porter Hall) who is waiting for a big payoff from the musician. He also seems to know the truth about the Princess. MacMurray refuses to pay, and Hall promises him some problems. The ship has several internationally known detectives on board (among them are Mischa Auer, Sig Ruman, and Douglas Dumbrille), and Hall sees one of the detectives and we see him approach to talk to him. Shortly afterward Hall is found murdered. On top of this, there is word (sent to the ship) that an escaped murderer is thought to be aboard (shades of Dr. Crippen), and we do see a strange little stowaway from time to time.
The film goes on to a second murder, a set of different rival detectives trying to solve the case, and MacMurray deciding to step in to clear himself and the Princess. The conclusion is quiet satisfactory.
With it's cast of expert character actors supporting MacMurray and Lombard's performances, and the clever script, THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS is a first rate comic thriller. I rate it 9 out of 10.
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