In “The Prince and the Showgirl,” Marilyn Monroe is adorable in an otherwise insufferable film

11 Dec

My Week With Marilyn has so intrigued audiences that fans are scrambling to see The Prince and the Showgirl, the 1957 Laurence Olivier-directed film starring himself and Marilyn Monroe, whose scenes are recreated in My Week With Marilyn

The Prince and the Showgirl has been backed up on Netflix since My Week With Marilyn hit the theaters, with the DVD availability still listed on Netflix as “very long wait.”  If you’re one of the thousands with that film in your queue, let me suggest that you satisfy yourself with this trailer:

The Prince and the Showgirl is about a Carpathian regent (Laurence Olivier), “his grand ducal highness,” whose son is plotting to overthrow him.  When the Ambassador attempts to entertain the regent with an American showgirl named Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe), the regent makes a pass at her and she rejects him.  Then she gets drunk.  Now in a less-discerning mood, Elsie kisses the regent, whereupon she immediately falls in love with him.  (Or to paraphrase Mr. Dooley, “There is one thing to be said in favor of drink, and that is that it has caused many a fellow to be loved that otherwise might have died single.”)

In the sober morning light, the regent wants no more of Elsie, and he tries again and again to get rid of her.  But soon Elsie charms the Queen Dowager into giving her a spot as her majesty’s lady-in-waiting.  She attends a British coronation ceremony and we sit with her through hours (ok, ten minutes that seem like hours) of staring at various stained-glass windows.  Finally, Elsie convinces the regent to be nicer to his son so that the young man won’t be so eager to overthrow his father. Everyone is happy at the film’s end, especially the exhausted viewer who was foolish enough to order the DVD from Netflix.

I’m sorry to say this because I know he’s a celebrated Shakespearean actor, but I felt a real distaste for Laurence Olivier in this film. At this point in his career, Olivier seems to have progressed beyond his time as an attractive male lead.  With his thin lips and pasty make-up, it was kind of like watching Marilyn Monroe getting groped by a Muppet.  

Eww.

His training as a stage actor may have been part of the problem, as what is necessary to stand out on the stage comes across as absurd overacting in a big-screen close-up.  Even the ears are assaulted.  The regent’s homeland of Carpathia is a fabricated locale, and Olivier affects a similarly fabricated accent, sort of a cross between an SS officer and Emperor Palpatine.

But don’t get me wrong.  The Prince and the Showgirl may be worth watching just to see Marilyn Monroe’s performance.  Just keep your trigger finger on the fast-forward button and you can sift from the wreckage some moments of blonde cuteness.  The two scenes that are recreated in My Week With Marilyn are just classic.  In the first, the regent is on the phone and Monroe’s Elsie is talking to herself playfully, offering herself some champagne.  In the second scene, Elsie does a little “charming dance” in the regent’s chambers.  These are the very best scenes of the movie, and the only ones that make the film worthwhile.  (And they will make you realize just how very on-the-nose Michelle Williams gets it in My Week With Marilyn.)  But if you want to watch Marilyn Monroe and at the same time be entertained by an interesting plotline, go to your queue and add Some Like It Hot.

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