April 22, 2006

Lombard does Garbo – sort of

Slowly, I am making my way through Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection. There’s just one movie left to watch as last night I took in the awkwardly named The Princess Comes Across (1936).

I have to assume the 1935 film Hands Across the Table had some success as The Princess Comes Across teams Lombard once again with Fred MacMurray. The 1935 film is a good movie (thus far the best of this six movie collection) and this attempt to recapture its successful elements works pretty well also, though not to quite the same degree.

It also does a few new things. It’s essentially a romantic comedy but it also blends in a murder mystery, so there are some suspense elements. These, however, aren’t particularly strong – the emphasis is on romance-comedy.

The film also seems to have some fun with having Carole Lombard do something of a send-up of Greta Garbo. Lombard plays a woman from Brooklyn, a struggling actress, who has scammed her way onto a cruise ship and into a movie by pretending to be a Swedish princess. When in her princess mode, Lombard puts on an accent and strikes an attitude that is pure Garbo. It’s very successful and also very funny.

MacMurray, on the other hand, is basically playing the same character he does in Hands Across the Table (though with a different name). Here, he’s a musician – a concertina playing band leader. But he’s also a smart-alecky, young man “on the make,” so to speak. He’s very breezy, throws out one liners and, soon, is in love with the princess.

He eventually discovers, or at least suspects, there is something not quite right about “the princess” but doesn’t let on that he knows. As with the earlier teaming with Lombard, both actors play characters who are in love but keeping secrets from the other – each is trying to maintain the upper hand.

In this sense, it is pretty standard 30’s romantic-comedy material. But with films like this the success lies less in the originality of the script than in the execution. In this case, with Lombard and MacMurray making a good pairing, the execution is pretty darned good – though I think Hands Across the Table works a bit better.

The one criticism I would have with The Princess Comes Across would be with the murder mystery aspect. That element often seems to strike a wrong note in the context of the rest of the film. I don’t think it is so much that the murder element doesn’t belong as it isn’t handled terribly well.

But that’s a fairly small quibble. Overall, this is a pretty good example of a 30’s romantic comedy and worth a viewing. And if you like Carole Lombard you’re sure to get a kick out of her take on Greta Garbo.

The Princess Comes Across:
- Amazon.com (U.S.)
- Amazon.ca (Canada)

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