The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)
The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: June 13th, 1957 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Laurence Olivier Actors: Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe, Sybil Thorndike, Jeremy Spenser, Richard Wattis

 


 

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o ease political tensions in Europe, Carpathian royalty is given special treatment and a personal liaison, civil servant Northbrook (Richard Wattis), during their stay in England. The Grand Regent (or Prince) of Carpathia, Charles (Laurence Olivier), arrives for a coronation ceremony and is taken to see The Coconut Girl show with Masie Springfield (Jean Kent). It’s here that he spies Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe), a young blonde performer and understudy. She’s by no means a star, but the Regent recognizes her ability to stand out from a crowd. She’s invited to the embassy where he’s staying, for a private, two-person dinner. Elsie’s quite accustomed to the predictably standard step-by-step wooing process used by men, and won’t stand for it. But after three or four vodka shots, she becomes much more pliable.

Her initial hesitation and distrust is quite believable – made more authentic by the stars’ real life dislike for her counterpart. Fortunately for Elsie, before the Regent can finish his comedic seduction game plan (which includes caviar, perfume, and a violinist) she passes out and is escorted to a room untouched. As ungentlemanly as the Regent’s actions are, this movie was still made in the ‘50s. It’s also meant to be a lighthearted comedy. Turning the tables on the smooth-talking Charles, Elsie greets him the following morning with words of love – but he has returned to his professional, uniform-wearing, scandal-paranoid, formality-insistent demeanor, in no mood for her playful nonsense. He can’t get rid of her so easily, however, especially when the Queen Dowager (Sybil Thorndike) appoints Elsie as her official lady-in-waiting for the day.

Monroe is her typical wide-eyed, smiling, coltish, frolicsome seductress, rarely deviating from her single alluring expression. Nonetheless, if it weren’t for her, the movie would be very dull indeed. She seems to glow even during moments of silence – maybe more so because her actual acting has little range. And this encompasses the fact that she spends the entire length of the film (spanning several days) in the same white evening dress. Meanwhile, Olivier is a touch over-the-top with his accent-heavy performance (which transforms into a steady bitterness), while Thorndike gets the most humorous dialogue. The events of the show require few sets, location changes, and cast members, relying greatly on just a couple scenes of slapstick, flirtatious words, and the reluctant romancing of the leads, which cleverly switches back and forth (eventually she’ll be the one to force vodka down his throat and coax him onto the sofa).

There’s essentially no conflict in “The Prince and the Showgirl,” although a minutely utilized overthrow plot is hinted at. The use of the 16 year-old King Nicolas (Jeremy Spenser), Charles’ son, to create a love triangle is especially witty, and the employment of a violinist (and then the whole band) makes for one of the smartest gags in the picture. Unfortunately, the movie is a touch too long and the ending, which is intended to be hopeful, is relatively disconcerting. It still went on to receive five BAFTA nominations including Best Film, Best Actor, and Best Foreign Actress. Perhaps more interesting than the film itself is the behind-the-scenes pandemonium, chiefly concerning Olivier’s annoyance at Monroe’s eccentric approach to acting and conduct. These controversial events are the basis for the 2011 film “My Week with Marilyn,” starring Michelle Williams as the blonde beauty.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10