Saturday, June 4, 2016

Princess O'Rourke (1943)

Before Audrey Hepburn ran off for a Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck, Olivia de Havilland had a New York holiday with Robert Cummings. But where-as Audrey had to choose duty over love, Olivia gets both.

De Havilland is a princess living in exile in New York City, as her country (unnamed) has been invaded by Nazi Germany (her parents, the king and queen, are still over there). With her is her uncle, played by Charles Coburn, and her secretary, Miss Haskell, played by Gladys Cooper. Princess Maria (de Havilland) is exceedingly unhappy with her situation. Even the arrival of a new hat fails to lift her spirits. After a count with a nervous tick comes calling, Maria imagines what their children would be like, with his tick combined with another tick that runs in his family line (de Havilland's comedic timing is perfect in this scene, which you can watch below). Worried with the way Maria is acting, her uncle suggests a change of scenery.

Maria then finds herself on a night flight to San Francisco, registered under the name of Mary Williams. Nervous of planes, Maria takes a sleeping pill. When immediate results are not forthcoming, she gets one from the stewardess. Then the co-pilot (Jack Carson). Then the pilot (Robert Cummings). He gives her two. Next thing you know, she has passed out cold.

Due to complications, the flight has to turn around and lands back in New York. Of course, no one can wake Maria up and they don't even have her real name. It doesn't help that when they are able to rouse her the tiniest bit she only speaks in French. The pilot, Eddie O'Rourke (Cummings) tries to help her walk it off. He takes her to a diner to get her some coffee, and the man there, thinking the lady just needs to sleep, giver her ANOTHER sleeping pill. There's no waking her now, so Eddie takes her to his apartment to sleep it off. He gets his co-pilot, Dave (Carson) to send over his wife (Jane Wyman) to undress Maria.

Honey, are you lucky I was raised right. I was, wasn't I?
Yeah, I guess I was.

The next morning, Maria awakens in Eddie's apartment and wearing his pajamas. He isn't there but he left a note for her, asking her to meet him later. Maria goes back to the hotel she has been staying in with her uncle, who had been frantically trying to find her when he found out about the flight. She tells him she spent the night in the ladies lounge at the airport.

After changing to a blue suit and her new hat, Maria goes walking and meets Cummings on the street. She doesn't remember him of course. They go into a drugstore and order cherry cokes.

Now that she's awake, and seeing how pretty she is, Eddie naturally wants to find out more about her. "What does your father do? For a living?" he asks, to which Maria replies, "He.. has an income."

Learning that she's a refugee, Eddie invites her to see the town with him and takes her on an ordinary date. They stop by Dave and Jean's (Wyman) apartment, were Maria learns who it was that undressed her. She is relieved. Jean also tells her that Eddie and Dave are planning to join the army as fliers.

Jean tells Maria that she has to her Women's Defense group meeting in the basement. Maria begs to come along. The lady in charge asks her what she can do. Well, she can't sew except petit-point, she can't cook, in fact, she pretty much can't do anything useful to the war effort. She is told that she can be the dummy for everyone to practice bandaging.

In the midst of it there is an air raid (and a funny episode involving the guys) and then the two couples go out to eat. Maria is called upon to tell her life story, so she concocts of tale in which she currently works as an upstairs maid. Jean tell how she and Dave got together (it's cute) and leaves both Maria and Eddie in a romantic mood. After they finish dancing, they go for a walk and Eddie asks Maria to marry him. When she is hesitant to answer, Eddie says, "Is it on account of your parents? I can support your parents!" Maria tells him no but that she loves him. She promises to call him the next day, but deep down knows that marriage to a commoner is out of the question.
Eddie, very excited, calls on his friends and asks Jean to pick out  the rings. He is so excited that when he leaves he opens the closet door by mistake.
You thought I was going to walk in the closet, didn't you?

In the meantime, Maria's uncle, has been looking into Eddie's background and is very pleased to learn that he comes from a family of nine boys, and his father one of eleven! He calls the King, Maria's father, and gets his consent to the marriage. Maria doesn't know that her uncle knows about Eddie and the following morning calls Eddie to tell him she can't marry him. "I'll always remember your asking me to marry you," she keeps telling him. Eddie, who has to leave on a flight says, "Stop repeating that!" He won't take no for an answer.

Feeling depressed, Maria tries to free her pet bird, because she knows what it's like to live in a cage (metaphorically).
Her uncle walks in and, still pretending he doesn't know anything, talk to Maria about her marrying an American, as it would be good for foreign relations. Her face brightens up as they try to think of what occupation this American should have. "Dentist? Lawyer? School teacher?"... "too uh..." "yes."
Then he suggests a pilot, to which Maria responds with a excited "Yes!" And what should his name be? How about Edward O'Rourke? Maria's expression says it all (and Coburn just keeps saying, "One of nine boys. Extraordinary. His father one of eleven!"):

Now to tell Eddie that she is a princess.
Maria invites Eddie to come to the hotel where she is staying. He invites Dave and Jean to go with him. They are all stunned when they find out her true identity and immediately become ill at ease, calling her "Your Highness" and acting very stiff. Eddie then has to talk to her father on the phone. Of course it's an awkward conversation.
I saw you on the newsreel.

The Royal family wants Maria to get married right away, and they are invited by President Roosevelt to be married at the White House. On the way there, Eddie is instructed in royal diplomacy and told what his position will be. It's put to him very bluntly:
Your position in the Royal Family is most important; you are to have children, if possible, boys.
Well that's not a full days work.
Whenever Eddie questions something that sounds silly to him, he gets the response, "It's customary." He is also told he will only be a prince, and not a king.
I'll only be a prince. Prince! Here Prince! (shakes head).
They arrive at the White House (they were given special permission to film there), where they are met by Roosevelt's dog, Fala. Eddie is still pretty much in shock over the recent turn of events. When they go to sign the pre-marital agreements, Eddie becomes upset to learn that he will have to give up American citizenship and drop out of the army. He becomes so angry that he is told to leave.

Royal Princess! You're nothing but a slave.

Eddie goes for a walk around Washington to cool off and eventually goes back to White House to sleep, as he has no other place to go and, after all, he was invited to stay there by the President.
Maria is meanwhile in her room, the same room that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in. "Lincoln freed the slave but he didn't free me," she sighs. Suddenly she hears a noise. Is it the ghost of Lincoln?? No, it's just Fala. Seized with inspiration, Maria writes a note to President Roosevelt and tells Fala to take it to him. A phone call is made to a supreme court judge to come and secretly  marry Eddie and Maria. Everyone takes off shoes so as not to awaken anyone else. Maria comes out of her room wearing an amazing lace peplum dress and matching hat. "Will you marry a refugee?" she asks Eddie. "Will I?"
My diamond's small, but my love for you isn't.

They go into study for the ceremony. As they leave, Eddie says he hopes that the guard who stood in as a witness doesn't get into trouble. "That wasn't a guard! That was the president!" Maria tells him. "Holy Mackeral! I tipped him a buck! And he took it!"

And with that, the film comes to a happy close.

Princess O'Rourke was written and directed (his directorial debut) by Norman Krasna and he won the Academy Award for Best Writing - Original Screenplay. The review in Variety read: "Princess O'Rourke is a spritely, effervescing and laugh-explosive comedy-romance. Credit for general sparkle and excellence of the picture must be tossed to Norman Krasna, who handled the writing and directing responsibilities." The New York Times claims it to be "in the best tradition of American screen comedy" and has "the fast, aggressive spirit and tempo of American life, plus a heavy slug of sentiment concealed behind wisecracks and jokes. It has that agreeable impudence which is the mark of an American's self-respect and it has, too, a nice touch of raillery for the formal, the pompous and smug." Here's how they rate the cast and director:
Norman Krasna wrote and directed the film for Warners, which hereby rates him with us in a class with such eminent film-makers as Frank Capra, Preston Sturges and George Stevens. And the whole cast plays it in a manner which should bring them all honorable awards. Miss de Havilland is charming as the princess—so modest, yet so eagerly thrilled—and Mr. Cummings makes a very amusing fellow out of the bewitched and bewildered hero. For instance, when he asks suspiciously, "What does a prince consort do?" or greets his future father-in-law on the telephone with the nervous statement, "I saw you in the newsreels," the nuances are delightful. Mr. Cummings is a new James Stewart in this.
Likewise, Charles Coburn is grandiloquent as the pompous uncle of the princess, and Jack Carson and Jane Wyman draw rich humor and honest sentiment from the roles of two friends. A word, too, must be spoken for the Scotch terrier which plays Fala, the President's dog, in this film. The trick of using the pup as a friendly symbol is the most appealing device of the year. And it fits most completely in a picture which fairly bounces with elastic good-will.
Not everyone was happy with the film though. The wartime Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP)  objected to the film, saying that it was an example of the studios "... recklessly using the war for background incidents in an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on the war rather than interpret it." They cited the "ridiculous" caricatures of Red Cross workers, European nobility, and the Secret Service as examples. However, no attempt was made to censor or restrict its release (source).

The filming of Princess O'Rourke was also not a happy experience. Olivia de Havilland was exceedingly tired of all the lightweight parts Warner Brothers had been giving her and initially refused to be in the picture, and was suspended as a result. Alexis Smith was tested for the part. Olivia ended up taking the part again, though she was unhappy for much of the shooting. Cummings was frequently not available, meaning she had to act with a stand in. Charles Coburn kept forgetting his lines causing numerous retakes. During this time, Olivia was also suffering from low blood pressure, exhaustion, and low energy level, yet managed to give a sparkling comedic performance. After filming wrapped, she filed a lawsuit against Warner Brothers that set a seven year limit to studio contracts, including suspensions. "I wanted to play a real human being instead of a delightful romantic heroine," she said. She won and it became known as the de Havilland Law. After the lawsuit, she was assigned by Warners to the RKO picture Government Girl (1943), another part she disliked, and her final Warner Brother film, Devotion (completed 1943, released 1946).  Later, however, Olivia said that Princess O'Rourke was one of her more satisfying roles to play for Warners.

Princess O'Rourke will be airing on TCM on July 30th at 7:45am ET.
This post is part of The Royalty on Film Blogathon hosted by The Flapper Dame. Be sure to read all of the other regal posts!


  1. Hello- its Emily- OMG Thanks so much for the TCM heads up!!! Its definitely going on my watch list!!!!! Thank you so much for writing- I suspect this film is a real hidden gem and I need to watch it! Charles Coburn always is a great actor and I need to add more Olivia to my watch list- perfect combo- and Robert Cummings is handsome so win win win! Thanks again for your piece- X Emily!!

    1. You're welcome :) It really is a great cast and you're right, a hidden gem. I'm excited about all the Olivia movies that will be showing in July! Thanks for hosting!

  2. Nice write-up! I've only seen this film once, but I remember enjoying it. My favorite parts were the ones with Jack Carson and Jane Wyman -- they were a fun team! (They made quite a few movies together, luckily.) I kept finding lots of similarities to Roman Holiday, too. One of these days I hope to write a comparison piece on the two films.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, they are great together. I love their story in the movie of how they met. A comparison piece is a great idea! I hope you write it soon :)

      Have you seen Two Guys From Milwaukee? It stars Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson, and Joan Leslie and this time Morgan is a prince that runs off. I'm always getting it mixed up with this one.

    2. Yeah, I've seen that one. It was cute. I think I have just a few more films to go in Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson's team movies. They made a lot together!

    3. I think I've seen most of their films together, haven't actually counted them. I try to watch every Morgan film TCM shows.

  3. How is it I haven't seen this? Must find. Thanks for the great review plus background info about the production.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! It's airing on TCM on July 30th!

    2. But of course, the reason I don't have cable is because, if I did, I would never do anything but watch old movies on TCM, and someone has to cook, clean, and teach the kids. Such is life.

    3. I guess that's a good reason ;)