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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' was billed as 'a curious blend of comedy, murder-mystery, romance and music'; the 'curious' is certainly without question, but the degree to which the mix blends is, I feel, open to some doubt.
On the whole this is mainly satisfactory from the comedy angle. The sole musical element consists of casting our hero, played by Fred McMurray, as a concertina-player, a choice of instrument guaranteed to provide humour by its plebeian contrast to royalty. McMurray also sings a spoof ode to his concertina at the obligatory onboard musical evening that gathers all the murder suspects together -- save one! -- to stage the climax to the mystery plot. Unfortunately the solution to the latter turns out to be extremely lame, the plot line having been again almost totally subjugated to the need for laughs, and chiefly providing an excuse for the introduction of four stereotyped comedy detectives -- the dapper Frenchman, the pompous Prussian, the pipe-smoking Englishman and the devious Russian -- and an opportunity to implicate Carole Lombard's Swedish princess.
Lombard's haughty impression of the princess who just wants to be left alone is the main selling-point of the film, and the difficulties this role places in the way of romance with her cocky concertina artiste, 'King' Mantell, provide most of the rest of the comedy. Filmed through a gauzy lens, she has perhaps never been more beautiful, and the script handles her predicament with sympathy, but this one gimmick isn't quite enough in the end to carry off the rest of this mish-mash of a film.
Ultimately I felt that it strains at too many different goals and falls short of most of them: its worst actual defect is the hand-waving denouement to the detective plot, which is of a nature to embarrass Agatha Christie at her most contrived, but the climax to the romance also somehow struck me as arbitrary and unsatisfactory, given how hard her character has defended her increasingly impossible situation throughout the rest of the film. Again, I get the feeling that the plot demands of the comic and romantic set-up respectively are pulling in conflicting directions rather than forming a happy blend.
Not a long-lost classic, but a curiosity, perhaps; worth seeing for Lombard's title performance, but ultimately less than a harmonious whole.
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