Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) Laurence Olivier

The setting is 1911 London with visiting dignitaries in town for the coronation of George V.  One of these foreign dignitaries is Laurence Olivier as a Prince. And the showgirl is, of course, the beautiful Marilyn Monroe.
This movie held no interest for me until I saw the 2011 “My Week with Marilyn,” starring the Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. The title refers to the making of this movie in England, Monroe’s only film made abroad. And the best way to enjoy the 1957 movie, is to watch “My Week” beforehand.
Olivier, who also directed, is wasted here as an actor and was so demoralized by the making of this picture that he didn’t direct another film for 14 years. (He’s brilliantly portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in “My Week.”)
As the showgirl who caught the fancy of a Prince, Monroe is gorgeous in that ridiculously tight, white dress, and is at times, incredibly funny. After being corrected several times about how to address Olivier, she finally gives a quiet throw-away line, “Oh, the hell with it.” She also charmingly imitates/mocks Olivier’s laughter while he was on the phone. In spite of a pretty bad movie, Monroe’s talent shines through.  Also watch for the scene when a passed out Monroe is carried out of the room by three men with her head lolling down - very nice comedic touch. 
Her short solo dance scene in the prince’s hotel is exquisite (and was beautifully recreated by Michelle Williams). However, there are way too many gags with Olivier pinning an over-sized medal on Monroe’s chest and far too many shots of Monroe’s ample behind. What may have been entertaining then is not so much now.
Two supporting actors deserve a mention seeing as how they helped to round out the movie and fill in the empty spaces in the chemistry between Olivier and Monroe.
Sybil Thorndike was a noted British theater actress who, here as the Queen Dowager visiting London, stands out in every scene in which she appears, and gets the biggest laughs. “Who was that creature? Was it an anarchist?”
Richard Wattis, a British comedic actor, is consistently humorous as Northbrook, a British civil servant assigned to keeping the Queen (Thorndike) and the Prince (Olivier) happy during their stay in London.
The Coronation scene in Westminster was overly long and spent too much time on Monroe gazing about in wonder with her finally shedding a tear. It’s a lesson in poor film editing.

When the movie is in comic mode, it’s amusing. When it’s in serious mode, it’s just boring. 

Written by Terence Rattigan (play and screenplay), there is some clever wordplay:

“Why do you always swear in German?”
“Because Germans have the best oaths...and machine guns.”

“It will answer those stupid American protests. I mean it will satisfy the democratic opinion.” 

So see the film if you’re a Monroe fan, but please watch “My Week with Marilyn” before you do. It will enhance your viewing pleasure.

“She is to be given carte blanche.”
“Carte quite blanche?”
“As blanche as she cares to make it.”
"Before your insults grow too great to be borne, I'm ringing for your motor."