Ring a Ding Ding
For the first several minutes of The Princess Comes Across, you are likely to ask yourself why this part was not given to Greta Garbo. Carole Lombard as Princess Olga of Sweden gives a performance that seems highly influenced by the aforementioned Swedish star, with a deep voice resembling Garbo’s immensely. Give the movie about five minutes, however, and you will quickly learn why Garbo was not cast: Princess Olga is no princess indeed. She is a Brooklyn girl masquerading as royalty to get a Hollywood contract.
So to start, we think we’re watching a romantic comedy about the princess’ attempts to conceal her true identity while aboard a ship destined for New York amidst advances from concertina player and bandleader King Mantell (Fred MacMurray). The plot changes, however, when the ship’s captain learns an escaped murderer is likely on board and a blackmailer (Porter Hall) is murdered in Olga’s room. The lady, who is now friendly with Mantell, fears that not only will her true identity come out but that it will implicate her in the murder (Mantell helped in moving the body to the blackmailer’s own room). To make matters worse, the ship is also carrying a convention of detectives from different countries, and they are masters at their trade.
On the dead blackmailer is found a passenger list with three names noted: Mantell, Olga and another to which we are not entreated. The detectives, therefore, latch onto these passengers as their main subjects. When one detective announces he will reveal the name of the murderer later in the day, he is promptly killed before having a chance. Mantell happens to be the first to discover him. As the detectives threaten to call Sweden to dig into the princess, Mantel, who has by now figured out Olga’s true persona, offers to reveal the murderer himself. He does not actually know the culprit, but figures the killer will come after him if he suggests having such information.
The outcome, and the identity of the actual murderer, is quite a twist and surprise. What is not surprising is the “princess’s” revelation of her actual origins and declaration of love for the bandleader, which makes for a sweet ending.
I never imagined I would see Lombard in a murder mystery. Although The Princess Comes Across has some laughs, none come from Lombard (mostly from Mantell’s sidekick played by William Frawley. The film on the whole is quite serious and balances the murder with romance. Some great lighting in murder-related scenes gives almost a noir look to some of the shots. Lombard does quite well with the Swedish accent, aloofness and continual use of “we” instead of “I”. She is very stunning in her princess-afforded fashions, and her pairing with MacMurray goes over much better in this flick compared to their previous encounter in Hands Across the Table.