A slight comedy of manners pitting two of the cinema’s biggest stars of the era, Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, in a romantic intrigue in which everyone wins and everyone loses, The Prince and the Showgirl is not among the more memorable films for either of the two luminaries.
The Production: 3/5
A slight comedy of manners pitting two of the cinema’s biggest stars of the era, Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, in a romantic intrigue in which everyone wins and everyone loses, The Prince and the Showgirl is not among the more memorable films for either of the two luminaries. Stories abound of the difficulties in getting it made (with most of the blame weighing on the fragile, conflicted Monroe’s pretty shoulders), but there is no evidence of that on the screen; merely that for such a fluffy confection, two hours seems about twenty minutes too long for comfort.
In London for a few days to attend the 1911 coronation of King George V, Prince Regent Charles of Carpathia (Laurence Olivier) attends a performance of The Coconut Girl and is attracted to American chorus girl Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe) whom he invites back to his embassy for a midnight supper. Assuming she’s another naïve girl he can seduce and forget about, he’s surprised to find she’s not so innocent and has his number before he even makes the first move, deflecting his clumsy pass before passing out herself from a combination of too much vodka and champagne. But this is only the beginning of the Prince’s frustrated encounters with Miss Elsie who inadvertently charms his mother-in-law the Queen Dowager (Sybil Thorndike) and overhears a plot by his teenaged son/soon-to-be King Nicolas (Jeremy Spenser) planning an overthrow of his father so he can assume the throne early. She manages to hang around for awhile to iron things out between father and son while seeing if there is perhaps any way a path could be fashioned for a real relationship between herself and Charles.
Terrence Rattigan has adapted his romantic stage trifle The Sleeping Prince for the screen, and we understand the significance of the play’s title as Elsie does use her brains and charm to awaken the stuffy, overbearing Regent to the realities of the world around him, isolated as he had been by having a cadre of servants at whom he barks orders and not being fully aware of the fissures within his own family. Laurence Olivier’s direction keeps things moving quite handily in all of the embassy scenes (he stages some very amusing backing exits from the Regent’s presence), but he misjudges interest in the coronation, extending that sequence to almost unendurable length especially since we don’t actually see anything but the reactions of various characters to the ongoing proceedings. Olivier does realize that the film’s greatest asset is Monroe, so he keeps the camera on her quite a lot and mixes his shots with close-ups, medium shots, and full body takes, all to show the star at possibly the pinnacle of her beauty before fluctuating weight problems began to plague shooting schedules in her later movies. Rattigan does have the clever idea in the story’s second half to allow Elsie to turn the tables on the Regent and stage her own seduction modeled on his own earlier attempts at breaking down her resistance, but by then it’s clear that their paths aren’t really destined to intersect for long.
We won’t ever know how many takes were necessary to get this performance out of Marilyn, heavy on dialogue (since it was, of course, a play first with Vivien Leigh playing her role in the London production) and with lots of physical business which always proved a struggle for her. No matter, what’s on the screen shows Marilyn to be confident and controlled and clearly the star of the show. In fact, her performance won for her the only serious acting award she ever earned (ignoring the several Golden Globes and Photoplay medals): Italy’s David di Donatello award for the year’s best foreign actress. Laurence Olivier’s performance attempts charm with his German-tinged accent (which he’d use quite a few more times in his career in movies like Marathon Man, The Boys from Brazil, and The Jazz Singer), but it’s not the smooth, effortless performance that someone like David Niven or Ray Milland could deliver with witty, comic lines. Much better is Sybil Thorndike who’s hilarious as the slightly befuddled queen mother, convinced Elsie is friends with Sarah Bernhardt and chastising her for wearing the same dress for days at a time (the very thing most will be thinking even before it’s mentioned after seeing Monroe in the same form-fitting ivory gown throughout most of the movie). Jeremy Spenser is apt as the youthful future king, and Richard Wattis makes great work of his Northbrook who keeps the wheels spinning flawlessly as the British foreign office representative.
3D Rating: NA
Presented properly for the first time on home video (even my iTunes streaming version is open matte), the film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Color is beautifully lush and appealing, and flesh tones have that peaches and cream look that’s quite pleasing to the eye. Sharpness is very good throughout with allowances made for glamour shots for the star. Film grain is present but is controlled and very appropriate, and there are no problems with scratches, splices, dirt, or debris. The movie has been divided into 30 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is just fine throughout. Dialogue is always discernible and has been mixed with Richard Addinsell’s music and the various sound effects quite professionally. There are no problems at all with audio anomalies like flutter, pops, hiss, or crackling.
Special Features: 1/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:21, HD)
The whimsical romantic comedy The Prince and the Showgirl is overlong and lacks occasional charm, but it does present its female star (the movie being the first and only product of her newly formed production company) to her best advantage and is worthy of a look. Fans of the stars will no doubt be delighted to finally get a definitive copy of this film for their own collections.
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