1 February 2009 | MartinHafer
Rather talky and tepid
The handsome Prince (Robert Young) has been kidnapped and will be killed unless a Polish secret agent (William Powell) is able to sneak a ransom note to the Czar. Unfortunately, he chose a rather silly place to hide the note (inside a specially created candlestick) and it is lost. At the same time, a Russian spy (Luise Rainer) is trying to sneak in letters incriminating Powell as a spy--and also hides them inside the matching candlestick--which also is lost. Lots of intrigue follows--as well as some MGM style romance.
This film should have been better. After all, it starred the wonderful William Powell and had such supporting stars as Maureen O'Sullivan, Robert Young, Frank Morgan and Henry Stephenson--all fine actors. However, despite a decent script idea and such talent, the film was only okay. Much of this is because the script was rather tepid and talky--with too many scenes listening to the characters play verbal chess--trying to outfox each other. There was little 'zip' or excitement.
In addition, some of the blame probably resides with co-star Luise Rainer. While Ms. Rainer only made a small number of Hollywood films, she had the distinction of winning two straight Best Actress Oscars. However, when you see these two performances as well as her subsequent films you wonder why she received such accolades. The performances just didn't age well. In the last week or so I have seen six of her more famous films, I can't help but think that she was a terribly over-rated star. I'm sure she's a nice person and is still thriving today at 98 years-old. But her style of acting usually included staring wide-eyed into space and often reciting her lines in an over-eager fashion--more like a girl in a high school play than someone trying to play a realistic performance. While Ms. Rainer was better in THE EMPEROR'S CANDLESTICKS than in some of her other films (particularly DRAMATIC SCHOOL and BIG CITY), she still was not up to starring against Powell.
Now all this is NOT to say that this is a bad film--it's enjoyable enough. But there just isn't much spark or energy and could have been a lot more interesting. A decent time-passer and that's about it.