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Yes, it's a wartime movie, with some fairly subtle propaganda thrown
in. Yes, it's a formula romance. Well, I'm afraid I love formula
romances. And I guess I can even respect propaganda when it's done with
panache and sincerity.
Norman Krasna's screenplay is the real star. Watching the film I was constantly amazed at how the dialog sparkled, how the situations never worked out in quite the way I expected, how the characters always seemed just a little warmer and more human than they might have in many similar films of this era.
The cast is excellent as well, consisting entirely of Hollywood stalwarts, every one of them at their most endearing. Jack Carson, Charles Coburn and Jane Wyman are all great, of course. But Olivia De Havilland is also perfectly cast, lovable on one hand, regal on the other... yet without that slightly simpering quality that made her less likable in, say, The Adventures of Robin Hood, or Gone With the Wind. Robert Cummings was a fine comedic actor who is not well-remembered today, perhaps because he was less multidimensional than someone like James Stewart; but he's used to excellent advantage here. He's not just portraying the perfect everyman Yank; he IS that (perhaps mythical) person, the Guy From Brooklyn. And, yes, the perfect wartime Yank, who's just got to join up and be in "the biggest fight of all time, and the most important." Just as Bogart had to go be a hero at the end of Casablanca. These wartime films earn much of their charm by being unashamedly part of their times.
But ultimately, it's the little touches that raise this film far above the ordinary. The extended gag with the multiple sleeping pills; the silly little bits with the president's dog... These don't distract from the warmth of the film, they add to it.
Perhaps we undervalue a film like Princess O'Rourke simply because the material and the style are so familiar. We need to step back and admire the Hollywood dream-factory at its finest, working to a certain format, yet also bringing together the talented individuals who could make that format sing.
I'll take a wonderfully-executed "formula" film like Princess O'Rourke any day, over self-consciously brilliant films that forget the basics of how to entertain.
Seeing Princess O'Rourke last night on TCM, it was interesting to learn
that interiors at the White House were shot at the real location. And
while the current president was occupied by something called World War
II, he found time to have his well known Scot's terrier Fala make a
That is the real Fala you see playing message courier between Princess Olivia DeHavilland and the pilot from Brooklyn, Robert Cummings. She's a princess from some unnamed European country that is currently occupied by some jackbooted uninvited guests. Most of the royalty in exile settled in the United Kingdom during war time, but some actually did make it here. In fact Olivia's father the king is in London as the story goes.
And this is a Cinderella story in reverse with the boy from Brooklyn, meeting, wooing and winning a princess. Cummings is an airline pilot scheduled to go in the Army Air Corps who meets princess DeHavilland on a flight that gets canceled back to New York. A slight overdose of sleeping pills leaves her in his unwanted hands. The unwanted part changes soon enough as it does in all films of this type.
The ironic thing is while some royalty did make it back to their countries, a lot were dispossessed permanently by those other totalitarian occupiers from the East after World War II. They didn't exactly live in the diminished circumstances that Olivia was heading for. Some of Charles Coburn's concerns as her uncle are quite real.
Princess O'Rourke is a charming comedy though dated by its topical wartime references. Look also for nice performances by Jack Carson as Cummings's co-pilot and Jane Wyman as Carson's girl friend.
Norman Krasna wrote a delightful script that is played to the hilt by Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings, Jane Wyman and Jack Carson--not to mention Charles Coburn. Interesting to note that de Havilland and Wyman would be up for Best Actress Oscars three years later (To Each His Own, The Yearling). Wyman was so impressive as Jack Carson's wise-cracking wife that Billy Wilder decided to use her for 'The Lost Weekend' in a more dramatic role. De Havilland's sleeping pill scene early on gets the film off to a breezy start--she even lapses into a little French (long before she became a Parisian in real life). All in all, she does a wonderful job as the Princess in love with commoner (Robert Cummings)and facing a few twists and turns of plot before the ending. John Huston, her boyfriend at the time, was said to have coached her in the role. Jack Carson and Jane Wyman have good supporting roles--and Charles Coburn has some amusing scenes as de Havilland's overprotective uncle. Ten years later, 'Roman Holiday' gave us another variation on this theme. One of de Havilland's better comedy roles.
It is, after all, 1943, so you've got to expect a little propaganda
from a film, even if it is a comedy called "Princess O'Rourke,"
starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Cummings, Jack Carson, and Jane
Wyman. DeHavilland is a princess visiting in New York, en route by
plane to San Francisco to escape from boredom. Before she leaves, she
gets a sleeping pill from her uncle's secretary (Gladys Cooper) but
when it doesn't work immediately, she gets another one from the flight
attendant, one from the copilot (Jack Carson), and finally, two from
the pilot, Eddie (Robert Cummings). Then she can sleep. Unfortunately,
the plane has to turn around and return to New York and the princess
can't be awakened. Eddie takes her to his place to sleep it off - all
very chaste, of course - and the two fall in love.
Olivia de Havilland is very beautiful and was one of the best actresses in Hollywood. Alas, she didn't always get a chance to show it. But she is certainly lovely as a young woman torn between loyalty and love. Her sleeping pill scene and the scene where her uncle discusses a possible American suitor with her are wonderful and demonstrate her impeccable timing. Jack Carson and Jane Wyman are delightful as Eddie's friends, and Cummings gives an energetic performance as Eddie. In the film Eddie's birth date is given as 1914; Cummings was actually born in 1908 and was around 33 when the movie was made (though released in 1943, the film was made over a year earlier). He retained his youthful appearance well past the 1950s, during which time he played a swinging bachelor in his television series. Charles Coburn provides excellent support, and Gladys Cooper is totally wasted in a role that she must have been assigned for some contractual reason.
"Princess O'Rourke" enters the realm of whimsy when the President and his "little dog Fala," as Roosevelt referred to his buddy, take a hand in the romance. The dog playing Fala is excellent! One interesting bit of trivia: It's rare to see a film released 63 years ago in which two of the stars are still alive (in fact, it's rare to see a film released 63 years ago in which even one star is alive), but at this writing, both de Havilland and Wyman are still with us. So is "Princess O'Rourke." It's light and enjoyable.
Pre-dating "Roman Holiday" by ten years is this charming little comedy
a runaway princess, this time in New York, falling in love with a
Like "Roman Holiday" the part of the princess is played to perfection,
time by Olivia De Havilland. And she's matched well by Robert Cummings,
with a brilliant supporting cast headed by Charles Coburn, Jack Carson and
Unlike "Roman Holiday" this film opts for an overly-simplistic solution that is neither believable or satisfying. It's quite fun though being in the White House and watching FDR's dog play an important role in the drama. And the Oscar winning script is pretty good until the finale.
But it is De Havilland that makes the film work. Early in the film she takes a number of sleeping pills, and her drugged acting is superb. She also has a very raunchy scene in a bath! She achieves a perfect balance between comedy and drama, and once again proves that she was one of the best actors of her generation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I almost gave this film a 7, since despite the film's many deficiencies
it is so much fun. My advice is try to look past the silly excesses and
improbabilities and you'll find a film that is both charming and a
modern fairy tale.
Olivia De Havilland plays a princess staying in America during WWII. It seems that her own country was overrun by the Nazis and she is waiting out the war in the US. While I am a HUGE, HUGE fan of Miss De Havilland, I must say that her part in the film wasn't all that compelling--she played an overly stiff character. However, this was made up for by the bubbly performances of Jane Wyman, Jack Carson, Charles Coburn and especially Bob Cummings.
Olivia is constantly watched by her uncle as well as keepers from the State Department and she has many official duties that seem to bore her. As a result of a desire to see Americans as they really are, she leaves her hotel and eventually bumps into Wyman, Carson and Cummings. They mistake her for a penniless refugee and take her under their wing. While it is pretty predictable, she and Cummings fall in love and decide to marry--even though Cummings has no idea she is a rich princess. When he does find out, you'd think the movie was about finished, but this isn't the case. There's still about 20 to 30 minutes left in the film. Despite my assuming her uncle (Coburn) would be against the marriage, he is thrilled--especially since Cummings' family seems chock full of boys and fertility doesn't seem to be a problem! But, other problems do develop and are eventually worked out, thanks to the help of FDR and his dog, Fala! Yes, I am NOT kidding!! An adorable Scottie plays Fala (the world famous dog of President Roosevelt) and while this is almost embarrassingly ridiculous, it's also pretty cute. My advice is to watch this film but just tun off your brain during the final portion of the film--it's so unbelievable and schmaltzy that your head will explode unless you can force yourself to cope with this!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is something pathetic about how World War II hurt the institution
of monarchy throughout Europe (and nearly Japan as well). In Western
Europe most of the monarchs fled the onslaught of the Nazi Blitzkrieg,
the most notable exceptions being the rulers of Denmark and Belgium.
But it is instructive to remember what happened to them. The King of
Denmarck remained defiant of the Nazis (if basically powerless) and
even (to his immortal glory) purposely wore a Jewish star on his royal
tunic when the Nazis began imposing their anti-Semitic policies on the
Danish Jewish population. On the other hand, King Leopold III of
Belgium did not show a finer spirit (though he always insisted he did
the right thing). Leopold willingly surrendered to the Germans and
cooperated with them. His reason for this was to protect his people.
This (of course) did not include the Jewish population in Belgium.
After the war the Allies were not very happy with Leopold (as they were
with the Danish King). Neither were the Belgians, most of whom compared
Leopold's cowardice (their view) with his father Albert's heroic
defense of Belgium in World War I, that made King Albert one of the
great heroes of his time. In 1951, Leopold had to abdicate in favor of
his son Bauduin I. Leopold died in 1973, never recovering any
popularity with his people.
Eastern Europe was similar, some monarchs proving heroic even to the point of death. King Boris of Bulgaria had to make a devil's pact with the Nazis in the face of Soviet aggression. But he refused to agree with the transportation of Jews (Bulgaria's population agreed with Boris - 90 percent of the Jewish population of Bulgaria survived World War II, the highest in all Europe among occupied countries). In 1943 he again refused, and died in some sudden, unexpected way while flying home from a meeting with Hitler. To this day poison or some other odd murder devise (depressurizing the cabin of Boris's plane has been suggested) may have killed him. The nation threw out the Coburg family as royal family when the Russians set up their puppet Communist regime. But when the Communists were finally overturned, the Coburgs were welcomed back. The monarchy wasn't restored, but the current head of the house was elected Prime Minister for awhile.
Most of those monarchs who fled settled in England or the U.S. or Canada for the duration. The only one who was able to return to his throne during the war was Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, as the British kicked the Italians out of that country. After the war the luckiest of the monarchs was Hirohito of Japan. Although there is still controversy about how deeply involved in the aggressions of the 1930s and 1940s he was (the title of one study, THE IMPERIAL CONSPIRACY, tells that suspicion), he was smart enough to know when to throw in the towel in the face of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was able to show to General Douglas MacArthur that he could be a damned good constitutional monarch. That's why Japan still has a royal family.
Only a handful of movies deal with the flight of the royals to Allied (but non-Communist) lands. The most notable ones are WHERE'S THERE HOPE, wherein Bob Hope is an unknown heir to a Balkan throne who has to be protected by Signe Hasso, and this film, PRINCESS O'ROURKE. Written by Norman Krasna (the screenplay won him an Oscar), it tells of how one of the heirs to the throne of an invaded kingdom (Olivia De Haviland) is mistaken for a maid by an American Air Force pilot (Bob Cummings), and how he and she slowly fall in love. The comedy works here as the story is built to show the so-called superiority of the equality of Americans (at least Caucasian, Christian Americans) over old world aristocrats and out-of-date monarchies.
There are some lovely bits in it. Charles Coburn plays De Haviland's uncle, a crusty old snob. But while initially opposed to the union, he begins changing his mind when he realizes that Cummings comes from a family of breeders (he has five brothers, and his father had seven, or some such set of numbers). Smiling and acting like he is considering purchasing a brood mare for breeding purposes, he keeps repeating those figures like they are a mantra. It is only when Cummings refuses the idea of his kids losing their American character and citizenship that Coburn's harsher snobbery returns.
The film is famous also for the appearance (in his only movie role) of F.D.R.'s "little dog Fala" as himself. The final sequences in the film were filmed at the White House (actually quite an achievement for any studio in wartime). The best moment is at the end, when Cummings upon leaving with his bride after a secret White House marriage tips an "aide" watching at the door. We never see the face of the aide in question, but I imagine afterward he roared with laughter while having a cigarette and possibly one of his own martinis.
Princess O'Rourke does not try to be amusing or clever, but instead it
deftly combines funny situations with a sort of real-life seriousness.
A viewer may get the impression that this is really how a princess
(Olivia de Havilland) would behave if faced with the predicament of
falling for a commoner in another country-- if, in fact, it would
happen at all.
Yet there is something believable about this hokum, because the film possesses a calmness and dignity, in large part due to the presence of Miss de Havilland. Robert Cummings as the leading man is both romantic and comic; while Charles Coburn and Jane Wyman deliver strong supporting performances.
The film's strongest asset, though, is the writing. The basic premise seems to cover all sorts of angles and suggests that love and politics intersect but do not necessarily mix. The story moves forward with ease, and a highlight of the proceedings is the friendship that develops between de Havilland and Wyman.
Firstly, I have to comment that Olivia de Havilland looks absolutely beautiful in this movie, and that is just as well, because the story is fairly flimsy and Robert Cummings is even out of his depth in this. (despite the foregoing, this film pre-dated "Roman Holiday" which has a very similar story line). The usual Warner stalwarts in Jack Carson and Jane Wyman had familiar roles which I am sure they could have played with their eyes shut, but it was so disappointing to see that wonderful actress Gladys Cooper in a five minute role as a secretary, and insulting to someone of her class. Charles Coburn was a good foil for the comings and goings of the lead characters. Somehow, one gets the feeling that this film, and a few others like it, would have been the reasons for Miss de Havilland going on suspension so often at Warner Brothers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two buddies are making their last runs as commercial pilots before
going into the Army Air Corps in this 1943 comedy romance. Robert
Cummings plays Eddie O'Rourke and Jack Carson plays Dave Campbell. But
Eddie's future is drastically altered when a woman passenger, Mary
Williams, boards their plane heading for California. She is Princess
Maria (from some undisclosed European country) who is traveling
incognito. Olivia de Havilland plays Maria/Mary who happily takes
sleeping pills from several people to be able to sleep on her flight
from New York.
But bad weather at all points ahead soon forces the plane to return to New York. Only her royal guardian, Maria's uncle Holman, doesn't know about this until later. Charles Coburn plays Holman with his usual wit and frequently dry humor. Eddie takes charge of the sleepy drugged Mary and tries to locate her family, to no avail. Finally, he calls Dave and his wife, Jean (played by Jane Wyman), who go to his apartment where Jean puts Mary to bed.
From there the fun continues as Uncle Holman is joined by the U.S. State Department and police in trying to locate the missing princess. They think she has been kidnapped.
This is a light, fun film with a very far-fetched plot (the displaced royalty in America during the war). The cast all are very good, and it has some interesting little insights of history. I noticed that one of the shooting locations was the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. And, that dog that we see! Could it be President Roosevelt's own Scottish Terrier, Fala? According to sources, including Wikipedia, Fala was played in this film by a stand-in pooch named Whiskers.
Many movies about World War II have shown the preparedness at home in England, and some American home front films have shown women taking up jobs in industry. But I don't recall any film before this that showed emergency training and support by women in the U.S. I don't know if the women's support group here was real or fictitious but a couple funny lines came at its expense. When Eddie suggests they go see the sights together, Jean says she can't until later because it's her day to work with the women's volunteer group. Dave says, "She's a major lieutenant." Eddie says "A major lieutenant? There's no such thing." Dave says, "There is in her crew. Everybody's something. Mrs. Maloney is a double sergeant general colonel, second class."
Another plus in this film is a look inside an early 1940s commercial aircraft that had sleeping berths. People today may find it hard to believe, but before deregulation of the airline industry in the late 1970s, airlines used to offer many amenities on board. My first flight was in 1962, but I had never seen a plane with sleeping berths. The one the boys are flying in this film seems more like a Pullman railroad car inside the cabin. Pullman sleeping cars were a thing of the past by the late 1960s, but a number of older films have scenes that show us what they looked like.
Bob Cummings actually served in the Army Air Force during WW II. He joined in November 1942 and served as a flight instructor. While this film came out in late October, 1943, that was a year after it had been made. Cummings was taught to fly while in high school in Joplin, MO, by his godfather, Orville Wright. Wright and his brother Wilbur were the first men to build and successfully fly a plane in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, NC.
Cummings gave high school friends rides in his plane. When the U.S. government began licensing flight instructors, Bob Cummings was issued the very first flight instructor certificate. Besides his flying credentials, Cummings had a very colorful background in acting. He successfully imitated an upper crust Englishman to gain stage roles in England and on Broadway. He later portrayed a rich Texan to get a start in films in Hollywood. In the 1930s he reverted to his real name and had a successful career in comedy, drama and mystery films, and on radio and TV shows through the 1950s.
Cummings isn't remembered much today, but he was well known and liked for his talent in the mid-20th century. He never became a super star, but played in some memorable films and with top performers of the day. He began using methamphetamines in the mid-1950s and his addiction hurt his career from then on and contributed to two divorces. He died of kidney failure and pneumonia at age 80 in 1990.
This film is light entertainment with some fine movie stars of the time. It's a fun film fit for the whole family.
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