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Thirty Day Princess

Thirty Day Princess(1934)

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Thirty Day Princess (1934) gave its original audience a perfect Depression-era fantasy, allowing viewers to transform themselves from starving New Yorkers into polished royalty. Sylvia Sidney plays a struggling actress with 17 cents in her pocket who is plucked off the street and offered $10,000 to impersonate a European princess for one month. Things like that may only happen in the movies, but in 1934 a little dreaming must have gone a long way.

When a movie opens with Edward Arnold soaking in a spa mudbath with cigar in hand, you know you're in for a slightly wacky time. Turns out that Arnold is in the fictional country of Taronia, and sitting in the next mudbath is the Taronian King (Henry Stephenson). To help modernize his struggling country, the King arranges a bank loan from Arnold; to win public opinion for the loan, Arnold takes the King's beautiful daughter, Princess Catterina (Sylvia Sidney), back to New York.

Once there, however, Catterina comes down with the mumps and will be bedridden for thirty days. Arnold hires a fleet of private dicks to find a look-alike, figuring that somewhere in New York there must be one. Enter Sylvia Sidney once again, as the afore-mentioned starving actress Nancy Lane. Cary Grant is on hand as a newspaper publisher suspicious of Arnold and the whole deal. Sidney, as the princess, lavishes attention on Grant to try and win his support. (Naturally that's not all she wins!)

The somewhat madcap plotting bears the partial stamp of Preston Sturges, who is one of several credited screenwriters. Permeating the movie are flashes of the clever dialogue that would become his trademark. While the script isn't nearly as seamless as Sturges' later, solo efforts, this is definitely worth a look for Sturges fans.

Sylvia Sidney is top-billed over Grant and never looked lovelier. She also acquits herself very well in her dual role, especially after other characters start to figure out the ruse. She appears as both characters in some split-screen effects, and one charming highlight has her eating lunch as uncouthly as possible - in order to convince Grant at that moment that she is Nancy Lane and not the Princess.

Though she had already made a splash in Street Scene (1931) and An American Tragedy (1931), Sidney had yet to enter the real prime of her film career, with Fury (1936), You Only Live Once (1937) and Dead End (1937) still to come. After those pictures, her film work became more sporadic as she concentrated on the stage, and starting in the 1950s she worked in television. Toward the end of her life she appeared in two Tim Burton movies, Beetlejuice (1988) and Mars Attacks! (1996). She died in 1999, aged 88.

Though he'd only been acting on screen for two years, Thirty Day Princess was Cary Grant's fifteenth movie. He comes off as self-assured, immaculately dressed, and a definite charmer, though perhaps not quite as smoothly so as he would yet become. He and Sidney had worked together twice before, on Merrily We Go To Hell (1932) and Madame Butterfly (1932), the latter of which, like Thirty Day Princess, was directed by Marion Gering. The Russian-born Gering helmed 15 pictures at Paramount in the early 1930s after a successful Broadway career, but his movie career fizzled out despite some supposed gems - "supposed" because most of them are difficult to find today. He directed Sylvia Sidney six times in all, in films like Jennie Gerhardt (1933) and Devil and the Deep (1932), with Thirty Day Princess as the final collaboration.

Universal Home Entertainment has packaged Thirty Day Princess with four other early, seldom-revived and mostly-forgotten Cary Grant vehicles: Kiss and Make Up (1934), Wings in the Dark (1935), Big Brown Eyes (1936) and Wedding Present (1936). None of these can reasonably be called an outright classic, but they are decently satisfying little movies, typical assembly-line concoctions from Paramount Pictures in the mid-1930s. A no-frills affair, the DVD collection has been placed on three discs with zero extras of any sort, but the transfers are fine, the price is reasonable, and the movies are all interesting as a way of looking at Grant's evolving style and screen presence.

To order Thirty Day Princess, click here. Explore more Cary Grant titles here.

by Jeremy Arnold