As with Howards Hawk’s film Twentieth Century this 1934 effort was partially written by Preston Sturges, thought he was only on hand to help adapt it to the screen with Frank Partos and even then he comments in his autobiography that “Not much” of his script was used. Most critics greatly prefer Twentieth Century out of the two but I’m an outlier on that front as I found myself rather charmed by this slight but very fun flick which boasts an early leading role for Cary Grant.
In a slightly (but only slightly) convoluted opening sequence we get to meet The King Of Taronia (Henry Stephenson) and his daughter Princess Catterina (Sylvia Sidney), and learn how poor the country is. Financier Richard Gresham (Edward Arnold) appears to have the answer though as he claims he can raise fifty million dollars in bonds for the country, and all they have to do is send Catterina over to America so that she can charm those involved in the deal.
But just hours after arriving Catterina falls ill with the mumps and they need to find a doppelganger who they can pass off as the real Princess, which they manage to do when they discover and all but kidnap actress Nancy Lane. Cary Grant’s newspaper publisher Porter Madison III is suspicious of the whole shebang but then falls for Nancy, who naturally falls for the suave as usual Grant, but feels a tad guilty about the deceptive element of their relationship.
Grant is more than fine in the film but most of the time he’s the straight man to Sylvia Sidney’s two characters, the first a charming and confident princess, the second a struggling actress who has to impersonate her. The film is at its best early on in the film as Nancy teases Maddison, asking “Tell me, do all Americans dance as badly as you?” in a tongue and cheek manner, and her supposed shock at the first kiss amuses, even though she quickly succumbs to Maddison.
The farce is ramped up a gear when Princess Catterina’s unwanted fiancé arrives in America and Nancy has to pull off the performance of a life time as she attempts to persuade him only to speak in English, all the while trying to keep Maddison happy too, and there’s some very funny visual gags involving various newspaper headlines as the fake Catterina travels around America and does her best to charm the nation.
As with most romcoms of the period you probably won’t be shocked by the outcome, but it’s the journey rather than the destination that is always the most fun element with this sort of thing. It has a very warm core and Grant and Sidney have real chemistry, it’s lacking Sturges’ usual bouts of pratfalls and slapstick daftness in general but the script is impressively smart and sharp, and packed with one liners that will make you chuckle at the very least.