Silly Saturday: Princess Charming (1934)

‘What is that?’
‘That is the revolution, your highness.’
‘Much too early! So inconsiderate.’

Here’s a peek inside the ping-pong balls that crash about in my brain: yesterday Mr B posted his Film for a Friday Get Cracking, a fine George Formby offering — I assume! You see I started watching it, thinking I could do so while doing other tasks that needed my hands not my brain and almost at once I see the script is From the story by L. Du Garde Peach, who is also one of the scripters of the film and I have to stop.

Like many writers I love odd names, so I had to immediately google Peach. He did not disappoint. I suggest you do the same and learn about this character who wrote for the page, the airwaves and the screen — and the Ladybirds. Looking at the list of films credited to his pen, I saw that one of them appeared not to have Wikipedia link: Princess Charming (1934).

Was this more of the white boy Wikipedia fear of girl cooties?! No, it turns out that it does have a Wikipedia page — it’s just not connected to the Peach page. Nor to the operetta page that it’s also inspired by.

In any case, I started watching to see if it was worth all this google-sleuthing and it got a laugh out of me in the first few minutes so I stayed with it. The film has the same kind of romping fun that Marx Bros movies do, though not the honed timing they got from working material on stage first. The plot comes from the operetta and is not too complicated, but it’s all the embellishments and silliness that make it a pleasure.

Evelyn Laye stars as the titular princess, a pampered and sheltered monarch. She sleeps with her teddy, a monkey named Mike and has no idea that revolution is brewing outside the opulent palace. She’s peeved to be betrothed to an old king she’s never even met, the King of Aufland (George Grossmith). Laye is a delight. The part is slight — all the parts are slight — but she manages to get you to sympathise with the princess who is kind-hearted if woefully ignorant. She’s got moxie!

Grossmith is very funny and probably better known and makes the most of the role as the bumbling king who needs the dowry more than he needs marriage — already being in love with the resourceful Countess Annette, played by Yvonne Arnaud, who is just so much fun. The two of them in the hunting lodge make a very sweet if not terribly royal couple.

The revolutionaries, not too surprisingly, are played as an ungrateful and destructive rabble, lead by self-proclaimed dictator-wannabe Ivanoff (Ivor Barnard making the most of this very odd role, at one point looking like he’s preparing for a Bob Fosse production. Henry Wilcoxon, who went on to greater fame with Cecil B. DeMille, has the thankless role of the upright Captain who is considered safe to get the princess from the embassy where she has taken refuge to Aufland because he is immune to the charms of women (yes, you can predict what will happen).

With the help of the Countess and her hairdresser, Louis, who escaped from the revolution, the princess manages to scheme her way out of the intended fates for everyone — oh wait, I’ve left out an important character! All right, that’s a rhetorical device: I left him for last. Max Miller, the original Cheeky Chappie, plays Walter Chuff, the insurance agent. Insurance agent? Yes, you see the princess’ life has been insured for a cool quarter million. Hmmm, and who gets the payoff?

Miller doesn’t have the same kind of profile that many of the music hall comedians got by being on the radio. He was considered too risqué for the wireless so he kept to stage and screen. He provides a welcome injection of anarchy whether he’s handing a cat around for comic effect, being buried by snow, or impersonating a maid. He was said to have inspired Benny Hill to go into comedy, but we can’t blame him for that.

‘Comedy is the one job you can do badly and no one will laugh at you.’ ~ Max Miller

The plot may be mostly predictable and it’s not something I’d suggest as a classic, but back in the day films like this were churned out at an incredible rate and the quality is far better than a lot of the dreck that gets created now by committees aiming at certain demographics. It feels surprisingly fresh and fun.

Silly stuff: I think there’s meant to be a joke about poor Mike surviving the fire when the revolutionaries torched the palace: the singe singed.

Princess Charming in her opulent bed with Mike the Monkey at her side