powered by AFI
The second of four films Fred MacMurray made with Carole Lombard between 1935 and 1937, The Princess Comes Across (1936) was supposed to have re-teamed Lombard with George Raft, her co-star in two dance-themed pictures, Bolero (1934) and Rumba (1935). Raft, who developed a reputation over the years for refusing films that could have done wonders for his career (including The Maltese Falcon, 1941, and Casablanca, 1942), walked out on the production because he objected to the studio assigning Ted Tetzlaff as cinematographer. Tetzlaff had shot Rumba, along with a few earlier Lombard films (and several after this one), and apparently Raft was upset that she came off looking better than he did in their earlier partnership. Despite his strong stand on this project, Raft ended up being photographed by Tetzlaff on two later movies, Johnny Allegro (1949) and A Dangerous Profession (1949), but by that point in his career, Raft's bad decisions and lackluster projects had taken much of the air out of his star ego.
With Raft gone, Paramount decided to reunite Lombard with her co-star in the hit screwball comedy Hands Across the Table (1935). She and MacMurray proved a likable pair and would work together two more times, in Swing High, Swing Low (1937) and True Confession (1937).
Raft's rift with Tetzlaff wasn't the only thing that held up production on The Princess Comes Across. A January 1936 item in the Hollywood Reporter noted the start date of the picture was pushed back to later in the month to allow for additional dialogue to be written. (The screenplay had four credited and two uncredited writers, as well as a story adapter.) During that time, the project changed directors from Harold Young to William K. Howard. Once the problem with Raft was settled, it was mid-February before work began. A little over a month later, Howard refused to continue shooting unless Dick Blumenthal, assistant to producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr., left the set. An angry Hornblow summoned Howard to his office; when the director failed to appear, Hornblow issued official notice that production would cease until Howard obeyed. Executive producer William LeBaron rescinded Hornblow's order and shooting resumed, but a meeting of Paramount executives was reportedly called to discuss efforts by the Screen Directors' Guild to secure the right of its members to film their pictures without front office interference.
Frank S. Nugent pretty much trashed The Princess Comes Across in his New York Times review of June 4, 1936, calling it a "mild-to-boresome comedy," but audiences disagreed, and the picture holds up rather well today. Lombard plays a Brooklyn girl who poses as a Swedish princess on board a transatlantic liner in order to win a Hollywood contract. MacMurray is musician King Mantell, whom she meets, falls for, and joins forces with in order to untangle a shipboard murder mystery. MacMurray would play another musician opposite Lombard in Swing High, Swing Low, although in the later film his instrument is the far sexier saxophone. Here, he plays concertina (akin to the accordion), and he even gets to sing a song, "My Concertina." The working title of the film, by the way, was simply "Concertina."
Lombard had a field day playing a woman pretending to be somebody she's not, an angle used frequently in screwball comedies, most notably in her superb hit Nothing Sacred (1937). She occasionally lapses into her character's real identity, Brooklyn-born wannabe Wanda Nash, but spends most of the picture masquerading as Princess Olga, giving her the chance to do a delicious take-off on Hollywood's most famous Swedish import, Greta Garbo. Lombard enjoyed making the picture, not least because it allowed her to mimic a famous star, something she began doing as a stage-struck child back in her native Fort Wayne, Indiana.
MacMurray later reprised his role in a December 1938 one-hour version of The Princess Comes Across on the Lux Radio Theater. Lombard's role was played by Madeleine Carroll.
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Director: William K. Howard
Screenplay: Frank Butler, Walter DeLeon, Don Hartman, Francis Martin, Philip MacDonald (story), based on the novel by Louis Lucien Rogger
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegte
Music: Phil Boutelje, Jack Scholl
Film Editing: Paul Weatherwax
Cast: Carole Lombard (Wanda Nash), Fred MacMurray (Joe Mantell), Douglass Dumbrille (Inspector Lorel), Alison Skipworth (Lady Gertrude Allwyn), William Frawley (Benton), George Barbier (Captain Nicholls), Porter Hall (Robert M. Darcy).
by Rob Nixon