Princess O’Rourke (1943)
“I’ll remember it the rest of my life.”
What else can a lonely European princess say to a passionate marriage proposal from an everyday American working man while she ventures out on her own in the Big Apple?
This Oscar winning romantic comedy of the day features Olivia de Havilland as a princess on holiday in New York. She’s resigned to her fate of waiting for the proper marriage to be arranged so the royal bloodlines can continue on. Her handler is played by professional codger and sometime cupid, Charles Coburn. Olivia’s bored and going through the motions of her U.S. tour. Like the caged bird nesting in her hotel room, she feels much the same, trapped.
Her life is about to take a turn for a romantic interlude when she boards a night flight to Washington while incognito and takes far too many sleeping pills. When the plane encounters serious fog and must turn back the two pilots are stuck with a woman barely able to stand who seems to think she’s in Paris.
Our two pilots are portrayed by light comedians, Jack Carson and Robert Cummings. Carson being a married man heads home and leaves Cummings in charge of the attractive lady with a sleeping problem. From one comical escapade to the next, Olivia awakens the next morning in a strange room, a strange bed and a pair of pajamas far two big for her. When she discovers a serious of notes including one referring to a birthmark, panic clearly registers on her face.
Back to Coburn and her handlers where upon Charles calls off the search for the missing princess.
Having aroused her curiosity, Olivia next ventures out in the streets of New York to a pre-arranged meeting with the writer of the strange notes. At this point it’s hard not to begin thinking of the classic Audrey Hepburn tale, Roman Holiday. Olivia is about to spend a day in the life of a normal every day existence. She meets Cummings and along with Carson and his on screen wife, Jane Wyman experiences a day she’ll not soon forget.
Keeping in mind this film was released during WW2, the ladies go down and offer their time for the good of the cause. Olivia with few skills can’t sew or cook but like the trooper she wants to be, allows herself to be a patient for trainee nurses. An evening on the town leads to dancing and falling fast for the pilot soon to be sent off to the war. This all leads to a quick war time proposal and a princess allowed a special memory to take with her on her way back to the throne and an eventual marriage to a man of royal heritage.
Screwball comedy is about to kick in when Coburn devises a plan to perhaps bend the rules on just who Olivia might be allowed to claim as a hubby. Utilizing just a whim of propaganda for the good of the war effort, why wouldn’t a young man from the U.S. marrying into royalty not be considered a good thing for world affairs?
The one obstacle to overcome is that Olivia is going to have to tell her new beau of her true identity which is bound to ruffle some feathers and more as Cumming’s character isn’t quite the pushover he seems to be when it comes to being told what to do and where to sign as the nuptials get closer.
Olivia would have been about 26 at the time of this film’s production and is perfectly suited to the role of a lonely princess. She sells it just fine in her Orry-Kelly gowns. At the time I suspect she was tiring of these roles and wanted Jack Warner to hand her something of more substance in the way of dramatics and those roles weren’t far off. That shouldn’t deter anyone from tuning in should you come across this bit of fluff that padded the movie houses during the war years.
It was the original screenplay by the film’s director Norman Krasna that garnered the film it’s sole Oscar. Known mainly as a writer, Krasna directed only three films, one of which was another Olivia film, The Ambassador’s Daughter which seems to be a twisted version of this Princess’ story. Some of Krasna’s writing credits include the comedy gem The Devil and Miss Jones, It Started With Eve and White Christmas.
Apart from doing my best to catch up to any Olivia film that has escaped me over the years, it should be noted that I do the same for features that grace us with an appearance by Jack Carson. Just one of those actors that I find it impossible not to enjoy when seeing him in his light roles, especially from his contract days at Warner’s and his multiple comedies with Dennis Morgan.