Thursday, August 12, 2010

Commoner for a Day

Last month, my Audrey Hepburn shot was from the film "Roman Holiday." I had no idea that it bore such similarities to "Princess O'Rourke," Warner Brothers' 1943 wartime comedy.

It's too bad "Princess O'Rourke" isn't nearly as good as the Hepburn film. "Princess" has a gentle, likable charm, but it really goes astray at the end -- which I'll talk about later in case someone doesn't want the finale spoiled.

In the film, Princess Maria (Olivia de Havilland) is in New York City. She's bored and tired of her family, particularly her uncle Holeman (Charles Coburn), who constantly worries about who her potential husband should be and how many sons they should bear.

She decides to get away and plans an airplane trip to California for her to visit friends. But when the trip is canceled due to fog, she's forced to spend the night with Eddie O'Rourke (Bob Cummings).

The set-up is similar to "Roman Holiday." Princess Maria is bored and wishes to get away from the overbearing responsibility of her duties. When she takes too many sleeping pills to survive the plane ride (like Hepburn's sleep-inducing shot), the princess unwittingly is taken home by Eddie, who has no choice (like Gregory Peck's reporter in "Roman Holiday").

The princess ends up spending a day with Eddie and his best pals, Dave and Jean (Jack Carson and Jane Wyman), although they don't know who she is. Eddie falls for the princess, but she knows she must return to her reali life.

The mixture of war, romance and comedy is nothing new during this time. Eddie and Dave have a serious talk about going off to war and who they will/won't return home to. Jean does her part by helping the Red Cross, sewing and conducting air raid drills. There's even a message about bringing the U.S. closer to an unknown European ally and the good that will do.

Still, I couldn't help feel that this had been done better elsewhere. In terms of a quick war-time romance, see "The Clock." In terms of a fairy tale romance of a princess on the lam, see "Roman Holiday."

Also, I found de Havilland (above with Cummings) a little too reserved and lady-like. Had she expressed more emotion or had more fun during her day incognito, it would have helped me develop a fondness for her. Instead, I always felt a distance between her and the audience. It didn't help that she wasn't thrilled about making the film. At this point in her career, she was so mad at Warner Brothers for not giving her better material that only a few months later she would file a lawsuit against the company that would keep her off-screen while it wound its way through the courts before a landmark decision was made.

Much better are the supporting players -- the likable Cummings, the always-dependable Carson, and the scene-stealing Coburn. Wyman is lively and warm by comparison to de Havilland, and apparently Billy Wilder decided to cast Wyman in "The Lost Weekend" based upon her performance here. It's too bad Gladys Cooper has a nothing role that wastes her talents.

And then there's that ending. Yes, I'm sure they were going for that happy audience-pleasing climax, but it makes no sense whatsoever -- it seems nothing was solved in terms of the difficulties facing Eddie. It's almost as if someone said, "Well, it has to end this way, so let's just get it over with." Boom. Cut and print. I rolled my eyes when "The End" came on screen. And, somehow, this film won an Oscar for its screenplay.

"Princess O'Rourke" isn't a bad film. Its gentle nature and winning performances from most of the cast go a long way toward masking the weak plot developments. Thankfully, de Havilland would finally get the roles she fought for and show her brilliance, and movie fans would get "Roman Holiday," a film that seems to have learned from "O'Rourke's" mistakes.


  1. Very good write-up. It's been a while since I've seen this, but I remember being disappointed for a lot of the same reasons you mention here. It has some charming moments, but it just misses. It's still better than her other 1943 comedy "Government Girl" which is really dated, and not in a good way

    Olivia was at an odd point in her career when she made this, between no longer being Errol Flynn's leading lady and before her stunning performances in "To Each His Own", "The Snake Pit" and "The Heiress", towering performances one and all.

  2. Need to see Government Girl for myself. Doesn't sound promising. Yes, once she won her lawsuit, she was off to the races with those great performances. I also like "The Dark Mirror" from 1946.

  3. This is a great review of the film. I'm a big de Havilland fan, so I'd probably be more likely to give her a bit of a break with this performance. I don't think the script (despite the undeserving Academy Award) was polished enough. Other than the sleeping pill episode, it didn't give her much to work with. The script is missing the spark needed for a great comedy. And de Havilland, although capable with comedy, was not a natural enough comedienne to be able to dig much out of what she was given.

  4. Hi JL, Thank you for the comments. I agree with you completely!

  5. Princess O Rouke is a really cute movie! There's not much substance there, but it's good for a rainy day, which is exactly when I watched it. Plus I love Olivia de Havilland.

    Love Roman Holiday.

  6. It is good for a rainy day. Olivia is great; hopefully I'll post something else on her soon. Thanks for reading!

  7. I've somehow missed this one, but I'll be on the lookout. Sounds charming, even if it can't hold up to "Roman Holiday." Thanks.