Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Prince and the Showgirl

The Prince and the Showgirl; comedy, UK/ USA, 1957; D: Laurence Olivier, S: Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe, Sybil Thorndike

Regent Charles, the ruler of Carpathia, a Balkan state, arrives in London to attend the coronation of George V. When he attends a stage musical, "The Coconut Girl", and is charmed by a showgirl in it, Marina. He invites her to his embassy for a one night stand, but she falls in love with him and drops unconscious from drinking alcohol. Charles wants to get rid of her the next morning, but Marina meets his mother-in-law, Dowager Queen, and thus stays to attend the coronation with the uneasy Charles. Staying around the embassy, Marina manages to stop a coup d'etat planned by Charles teenage son Nicholas, and actually helps them make out. Charles informs her that he will be an ordinary citizen in 18 months when Nicholas succeeds him, and Marina tells him she will wait for him.

Laurence Olivier's only comedy as a film director, "The Prince and the Showgirl" is a curiosity in his career, and a very uneven and stiff achievement since it seems he had difficulties handling humor instead of Shakespearean drama. For all the hype surrounding the actual filming, mostly focusing on the alleged problems with Marilyn Monroe who was supposedly very difficult to work with, it is even more surprising that in the final result, it is actually Monroe who is wonderfully charming and alive, whereas Olivier is weak. Actually, "The Prince..." is only and exclusively a good film thanks to Monroe, and without her - or some actress her calibre - it would have been a mediocre flick. It may seem like a heresy to claim that Monroe eclipsed Olivier, but in this edition, she simply did. Olivier plays the Prince with an awful accent, a stiff persona and no sense for comic timing, whereas his actions' are often puzzling: for instance, in his embassy, he obviously wants to seduce Marina for dinner, but for some reason spends the time reading newspapers while she is serving the food to herself at the table. When he finally does get into the mood, by having one of the servants play a violin outside the room, and Marina indeed tells him she is falling in love, she falls unconscious from too much alcohol - and he just drops her on the floor? And then leaves the room? It may have been a intentional choice to show the Prince as a nobility who lost touch with normal people, but it made him very difficult to like for the audience. The odd open ending does not help in the impression, either, but it has a certain spark thanks to Monroe. 54 years later, a film about filming "The Prince..." was made, "My Week with Marylin", which was - despite questions of its factual accuracy - a far more interesting take on it.


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