Prince and the Showgirl, The (1957)

“With such a girl like that, anything can happen — anything.”

Prince and the Showgirl Poster

Synopsis:
Just before the coronation of King George V in 1911 London, the Prince Regent of Carpathia (Laurence Olivier) woos a sexy American showgirl (Marilyn Monroe) while feuding with his son (Jeremy Spencer) and dealing with attempts to take over his throne.

Genres:

Review:
Laurence Olivier’s first non-Shakespearean effort as a cinematic director was this lightweight historical romantic comedy, based on Terence Rattigan‘s play The Sleeping Prince, and best known by modern audiences as the subject of the 2011 film My Week With Marilyn (starring Michelle Williams). Indeed, MWWM offers such a fascinating — if potentially apocryphal — glimpse behind the scenes of the film’s notoriously troubled production that most film fanatics will want to take a look simply out of curiosity; but unfortunately, it hasn’t held up as engaging entertainment on its own. The primary problem is that Olivier isn’t comfortable enough with the comedic genre to elevate the material: his one-note portrayal as the Teutonic prince regent feels strained, as does the entire stagy scenario. Monroe gives a typically appealing performance as a sexpot who isn’t quite as naive as she looks or acts (and wow, how she fills out that dress!) — but her interactions with Olivier are consistently painful, given that he’s not only a complete user (he simply wants to bed her and discard her — end of story), but never manages to redeems himself as anyone worthy of her romantic interests. Meanwhile, the way in which Monroe’s character does eventually fall for Olivier’s character completely discredits her intelligence, making it a challenge to respect her throughout the rest of the film. The best aspect of the movie by far is Jack Cardiff’s incomparably luminous cinematography, which showcases Monroe and her vibrantly colored surroundings to wonderful effect.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marilyn Monroe as Elsie
    Prince and the Showgirl Monroe2
  • Jack Cardiff’s cinematography
    Prince and the Showgirl Cinematography
    Prince and the Showgirl Cinematography2

Must See?
No – though naturally it will be of interest to those who’ve seen My Week With Marilyn, or to Monroe completists.

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One Response to “Prince and the Showgirl, The (1957)”

  1. A once-must, for Marilyn’s performance and DP Cardiff’s amazing work.

    I tried several times to get through ‘My Week with Marilyn’ and I just could not make it through. ~nothing particularly against Michelle Williams but I wasn’t buying into it. For me, it started off on the wrong foot with the footage of Marilyn singing ‘Heat Wave’, supposedly from a film but *not* shot as the number was shot in ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’. As a strong Marilyn fan, I find that a glaring mistake in judgment. But that error aside, I just wasn’t finding the film engaging; it seems a bit pointless.

    On the other hand, revisiting ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ itself, I was surprised to see how well it actually does work, all things considered. If you didn’t know of the (apparently considerable) troubles during the film shoot, you would probably not really think that anything was amiss.

    Rattigan’s script is light but bubbly and often quite witty – even if you don’t quite understand why Marilyn’s character would suddenly shift into genuinely desiring the prince (that is a noticeable problem; maybe we’re to think she senses that certain something in him ‘underneath’?).

    But I don’t agree with critics who claimed the film is slow-moving; I find it rather breezy.

    Olivier is not as hammy as he can be elsewhere. His restraint is admirable – but his character is not all that interesting, really. Olivier’s direction, on the other hand, is effective and efficient. I especially enjoy his handling of the extended sequence the night of the Ball.

    If Sybil Thorndike (as Olivier’s mother-in-law) had been in more of the film – and I wish that were the case – she may have almost walked off with it. As is, though, she’s an added delight here – especially with her throwaway delivery.

    As for Marilyn…what ends up on-screen is perfectly charming. She’s playing a role that could just as easily have been played by someone who was not supplying any subtext to it. Rattigan doesn’t overtly give much room for depth – as the role is written – but Marilyn is quite noticeably paying close, intelligent attention to everything going on around her, and supplying significant comic detail. I find her a lot of fun to watch here – and consistently so. (Sooo sad how little control she apparently had over herself in life. Very, very sad – mainly since I firmly believe she was genuinely quite talented.)

    Cardiff’s photography (agreed) is a real and very distinct plus-factor as well here. He is one of a small number of DPs who makes one want to see a film just because he’s on-board. His contribution to ‘TP&TS’ is marvelous and memorable throughout.

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