It's not all smooth sailing in The Princess Comes Across, a rather bumpy murder mystery, but it's a genial enough way to pass a little time. Princess has a bright and promising premise, if not an overly original one, and it's the kind of premise that allows for a convenient comedy mystery setup -- a leading character with a secret, a self-contained setting from which there is no easy entry or exit, a time constraint, and a pleasant assortment of characters. With this kind of start, it's usually just a matter of connecting the dots. Princess connects the dots, alright, but it has to struggle a little bit to do so, which is perhaps the result of too many writers being engaged on a rather straightforward job. The viewer keeps getting the idea that one writer contributed something -- a bit of character business perhaps -- the development of which was aborted by another writer. None of this sinks Princess, but it does keep it from being more than just an average, if enjoyable, film. Certainly it can't be faulted for its cast, with Carole Lombard providing a delightfully haughty ice princess who's as entertaining as her brassy alter ego, a boyish Fred MacMurray playing a smoothy with rough corners, a delightful William Frawley, and a priceless Alison Skipworth. No classic, Princess is still amiably diverting.
The 1936 comedy-mystery The Princess Comes Across might well have been inspired by a real-life incident during the silent-movie era, in which a crafty San Francisco stenographer hoodwinked the Hollywood elite into believing that she was a Spanish princess. Carole Lombard stars as an alluring Swedish beauty who travels under the name of Princess Olga. Everyone whom she meets en route to America on the steamship Mammoth bows and scrapes to the Princess, while Hollywood anxiously awaits her arrival to star her in a big-budget film. Only the ship's bandleader, King Mantell (Fred MacMurray), refuses to defer to Olga, sensing that she may not be all she claims. Mantell's instincts are right on target: the "Princess" is a brass-nickel phony, a Brooklyn girl named Wanda Nash who has cooked up her royal guise with drama coach Gertrude (Alison Skipworth) as a publicity stunt to crash into movies. Unfortunately, a weaselly blackmailer Darcy (Porter Hall) gloms onto Wanda's true identity and offers to keep quiet in exchange for a huge cash settlment. At the same time, Darcy is attempting to shake down several other passengers on the Mammoth, including King Mantell. Inevitably, Darcy is found murdered in the "Princess"'s stateroom, and Wanda finds herself one of several likely suspects, among them Mantell. A quintet of international detectives, travelling to a convention in America, sets out to solve the mystery, which becomes even more mysterious when one of the detectives also turns up dead. Taking matters in his own hands, Mantell vows to clear Wanda's name, and in the course of things he realizes that he's madly in love with her--but will Wanda give up her hoax, and her future showbiz career, for Mantell's sake? Among the many highlights in this engagingly daffy film is Fred MacMurray's rendition of the enchantingly forgettable song ""My Concertina.""