Princess Comes Across [1936]

In the 1930s, nobody combined glamour, romantic comedy, and drama better than Carole Lombard. Having entered show-biz at the age of 12, the former Jane Alice Peters (b. Oct. 6, 1908, in Fort Wayne, Indiana) distinguished herself from equally stellar contemporaries like Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and Jean Arthur by establishing her versatility as a fashion icon whose beauty was matched by playful intelligence and a bright, independent persona (on screen and off) that predated feminism by 40 years and made her an appealing foil for admiring male costars. As this delightful half-dozen of her lesser-known features makes abundantly clear, her meteoric success was entirely well-deserved, and The Glamour Collection shows her as a star on the rise, gaining confidence and adoring fans with each new picture. As one of Paramount's most valued contract players, she starred in five of the six films included here (Love Before Breakfast was a loan-out to Universal), beginning with 1931's Man of the World, a Parisian romance written by Herman J. Mankiewicz (10 years before Citizen Kane) and headlined by future Thin Man star William Powell as an expatriate con artist who falls for Lombard's spoiled heiress--a romantic pairing made all the more believable by the stars' real-life marriage later that year. A loose adaptation of The Admirable Crichton, We're Not Dressing (1934) is Depression-era entertainment at its most diverting, employing a full stable of Paramount players (including George Burns and Gracie Allen, Ethel Merman, and a young "Raymond" Milland) in a shipwreck romance between socialite Lombard and singing sailor Bing Crosby, who croons songs aplenty (including "Stormy Weather") and shares equal screen-time with an affectionate bear! Directed by Norman Taurog (best known for his later work with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Elvis Presley), it's every bit as fun as the Marx Brothers hits from the same period. Arguably the best film in this set, Hands Across the Table is noteworthy for the typically stylish direction of Mitchell Leisen, who brings his reliable sophistication to the tale of a New York manicurist (Lombard) who must choose between potential suitors Fred McMurray (as a would-be heir to a fortune) and disabled ex-pilot Ralph Bellamy. (This being 1934, Norman Krasna's otherwise excellent script restricts Bellamy to the romantic sidelines with outdated feel-good sentiment.) Love Before Breakfast (1936) is a similarly enjoyable but typically chauvinistic dose of '30s high-society love-play, in which Lombard bounces between boyfriend Cesar Romero and a Wall Street tycoon (Preston Foster) who knows what's best for her and bosses her around accordingly. In the mystery/comedy The Princess Comes Across (1936), McMurray returns as a lovestruck bandleader, falling for Lombard's radiant Swedish princess (played as a playful nod to Greta Garbo) on a cruiser bound for Hollywood. After completing the classic Nothing Sacred, Lombard (who married Clark Gable in 1939) teamed with McMurray yet again in True Confession (1937), a black screwball thriller/comedy elevated by the presence of comedy stalwarts John Barrymore, Edgar Kennedy and Una Merkel. It rounds out The Glamour Collection in fine form (Lucille Ball is said to have modeled her TV persona after Lombard's character), and leads the way to such later classics as Made for Each Other (1939) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). Tragically, Lombard's outstanding career was cut short when she perished (along with her mother and 20 other passengers) in a 1942 plane crash. Fortunately for DVD collectors, these six films (all remarkably well-preserved with clear image and sound) serve as a fitting tribute to Lombard's unique talent, allowing movie lovers of all ages to rediscover one of the most alluring queens of the silver screen. --Jeff Shannon

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