In Marion Gering’s 1934 film Thirty Day Princess, Sylvia Sidney stars as Princess Catterina of Taronia, a small European country that doesn’t even have electricity in most of its villages. In order to build the necessary infrastructure, her father the king wants to take a loan from a New York banker (Edward Arnold). But banker Gresham knows that the American public won’t support another foreign loan unless they look favorably upon the people it’s being loaned to, and the king is unable to leave the country. So Catterina is sent in his stead to charm the public.
Upon arrival, however, she comes down with a case of the mumps, and has to be quarantined in her rooms.
European royalty’s always fainting over something anyway.
Gresham sees this as a publicity disaster if it gets out. For some reason which unfortunately is never made clear, Gresham feels it is very important personally to make this loan go through. The possibility that it’s a bad loan is floated by a few of the other characters, and Gresham certainly seems shady enough to do it, but it’s made explicit a few times that the loan is good. So the only explanation for why Gresham thinks it’s important to have Princess Catterina appear and right that moment is that he must just really like Taronia. It’s a weakness in a film that otherwise has a solid, if unimaginative, plot.
In order to make the public fall in love with the princess, Gresham has his men go out and find a doppelganger, and finds her in the form of struggling theatre actress Nancy Lane. Sidney shows her skill as an actress here, deftly switching back and forth between the enthusiastic aristocratic naivete of the princess and the impoverished cynicism of the jaded New Yorker. Nancy ends up taking the role of the princess for the next thirty days. Cary Grant plays a newspaper editor who is convinced the loan is bad, and is nosing around to prove it. This setup is all in the first fifteen minutes or so of the picture, and you can guess the rest of the plot from there.
It’s that which forms the biggest weakness of the film. There are very few surprises along the way, as the standard screwball romantic comedy tropes are in full force and the movie has no interest in deviating. Granted, it was only 1934, it’s not like the standards were ancient by then… but they weren’t uncommon either. Where the film earns some forgiveness is that it’s charming in how it uses those tropes, as all the actors are more than competent in their roles. There’s some amusement in Sidney’s flip-flop performance, and in the humor around Grant’s character’s about-face when it comes to royalty. When his subordinate calls him out on trading in an “All-American chip on his shoulder” for “scraped knees”, it’s hard not to picture all the American media hoopla about royal weddings and royal babies of the last few years. The biggest laughs in the film, however, don’t come from either of its two stars, but from character actor Vince Barnett, who plays Catterina’s fiancee, a Count who comes across as something of a foppish Elmer Fudd.
Thirty Day Princess, like a lot of old romantic comedies, falls into a simple category of being inoffensive yet unimaginative. It’s not worth making any particular effort to seek it out, but if it happens to be on, it’ll provide some modest entertainment.