powered by AFI
Ten years before a similar story won accolades as Roman Holiday (1953), Princess O'Rourke (1943) brought an Oscar to writer-director Norman Krasna for Best Original Screenplay. Like the later film, Krasna's tells of an appealing, dark-eyed European princess who abandons her royal obligations and runs away to fall in love with a commoner - this time in New York City. In a performance almost as charming as Audrey Hepburn's a decade later, Olivia de Havilland stars as Princess Maria, who must choose between love and duty after becoming involved with an airline pilot played by Robert Cummings. Filmed during wartime, the patriotic Princess O'Rourke includes an appearance near the end by Franklin D. Roosevelt and his dog, Fala. The film's remarkable supporting cast includes Charles Coburn, Jack Carson, Jane Wyman and Gladys Cooper. Thirteen years later, writer-director Krasna and de Havilland would re-team for another featherweight comedy, The Ambassador's Daughter (1956).
Knowing the circumstances surrounding the filming of Princess O'Rourke makes one realize how remarkable it is that de Havilland was able to sustain her sparkling comic playing. For some months the hard-working actress had been suffering from exhaustion, low blood pressure and a depressed energy level. Frequently ill and frustrated with Warner Bros. insistence on casting her in lightweight roles, she found the heat in the studio stifling during the movie's July filming. Since co-star Cummings was also making a picture at Universal, he was frequently absent from the set, leaving de Havilland to act opposite a double practice she hated. Because of character actor Coburn's faulty memory, numerous retakes were required in her scenes with him. (To her credit, she was invariably kind to Coburn and never lost patience with him.)
De Havilland began reporting late for work - behavior previously unheard of on the Warner lot - and walking off the set without permission and heading home. Tensions mounted between her and the studio she would eventually sue in a landmark case that set a seven-year limit, including any time spent on suspension, on studio-player contracts. Eric Stacey, assistant director on Princess O'Rourke, wrote in a memorandum to studio manager Tenny Wright that "We have no accurate record on this production of the delays directly attributable to Miss de Havilland's non-cooperation; It takes all day to get her out of her room and onto the set." The film at last was completed, 10 days behind schedule.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director/Screenplay: Norman Krasna
Art Direction: Max Parker
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Editing: Warren Low
Original Music: Frederick Hollander, Arthur Schwartz
Principal Cast: Olivia de Havilland (Princess Maria), Robert Cummings (Eddie O'Rourke), Charles Coburn (Uncle), Jack Carson (Dave), Jane Wyman (Jean), Harry Davenport (Supreme Court Judge), Gladys Cooper (Miss Haskell)
BW-95m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe