The Prince and the Showgirl

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The Prince and the Showgirl

Comedy, Romance | 115 mins | Released: 1957
Director: Laurence Olivier
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier, Richard Wattis, Sybil Thorndike, Jean Kent, Jeremy Spenser, David Horne
Our Rating: 8
Color

The film is set in London in June 1911. George V will be crowned king on 22 June and in the preceding days many of the most important dignitaries arrive. Among those arriving are King Nicholas of Carpathia (Jeremy Spenser) and the regent, Prince Charles (Laurence Olivier).

The British government realises the succession in Carpathia is critical to the rising tension in Europe and to gain favour with them would be wise. They find it necessary to pamper the royals during their stay in London, and thus civil servant Northbrook (Richard Wattis) is detached to their service. Northbrook decides to take the Prince Regent out to the musical performance The Coconut Girl. During the interval the Prince Regent is taken backstage to meet the cast. He is particularly uninterested in engaging with the male actors and extremely interested only in the physical charms of Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe), one of the performers, and sends a formal written invitation for her to meet him at the embassy for supper.

Elsie arrives at the embassy and is soon joined by the Prince Regent, a stiff, pompous but powerful fool. She expects a party but quickly realises the Prince’s true intentions – to seduce her. She was previously persuaded not to leave early by Northbrook, who promised to provide an excuse for her to escape. While Elsie is there for love, the Prince has other ideas. He is inept at romance, however, and turns his back on her to take a phone call. He then makes a clumsy pass at her, to which she’s accustomed from men and immediately rebuffs. She pointedly explains how inept he is at romance and the Prince then changes his tactics. The two eventually kiss and Elsie admits she may be falling in love, but she passes out from the many drinks he has encouraged her to consume. The Prince places her in an adjoining bedroom to stay the night. The following day, Elsie overhears a conversation concerning the young Nicolas’ plotting with the German embassy to overthrow his father. Promising not to tell, Elsie then meets the Dowager Queen (Sybil Thorndike), the prince’s mother-in-law, who decides she should join them for the coronation in place of her lady-in-waiting. The ceremony passes and Elsie refuses to tell the Prince Regent details of the treasonous plot. During the Coronation Ball (to which she was invited by Nicholas,) she persuades Nicholas to draw up a contract in which he confesses his and the Germans’ intent, but only if the Prince agrees to a general election. The Prince Regent is impressed and realises that he has fallen in love with Elsie. The morning after the Coronation Ball, Elsie irons out the differences between father and son. Her honesty and sincerity have inspired the prince finally to show love to his son in private, rather than only affecting it in public.

The next day, the Carpathians must leave to return home. The Prince Regent had planned to have Elsie join them; in eighteen months’ time, his regency will be over and he will be a free citizen. She reminds him that that is also the length of her music-hall contract. They both realise that much can happen in eighteen months and say goodbye. The ending is ambiguous, left up to the viewer to decide if they will meet again in 18 months time.

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Movie Notes:

The Prince and the Showgirl is a 1957 British-American Technicolor romantic comedy film produced at Pinewood Studios starring Marilyn Monroe and co-starring Laurence Olivier who also served as director and producer. Filmed in conjunction with Marilyn Monroe Productions, it was written by Terence Rattigan who based the screenplay on his stage play The Sleeping Prince.

Production was marred with difficulties between Monroe and her co-stars and the production team. According to Jean Kent, Monroe regularly failed to arrive on set on time and “appeared dirty and disheveled”. She caused her co-star Richard Wattis, who had a lot of scenes with her, to “take to drink because takes had to be done so many times” and had an uneasy relationship with the normally quiet and placid cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who said that Olivier referred to her as a “bitch”. “She never arrived on time, never said a line the same way twice, seemed completely unable to hit her marks on the set and couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything at all without consulting her acting coach, Paula Strasberg.” Olivier also reportedly showed a strong dislike of Monroe and her acting coach; he ordered Strasberg off the set at one point and Monroe refused to continue shooting until she was restored. The relationship between Olivier and Monroe worsened when Olivier said “try and be sexy” to her and she never forgave him for it. Kent states that the difficulties with filming and with Monroe caused Olivier “to age 15 years.”

Donald Sinden, then a contract star for the Rank Organisation at Pinewood Studios, had a permanent dressing room four doors from Monroe’s during the filming, though working on different movies. He said “She was still suffering from the effects of The Method school of acting, so one day I had the props department make up a notice that I fixed to my door saying: “Office of the Nazak (Kazan, backwards) Academy. You too can be inaudible. New egos superimposed. Motivations immobilised. Imaginary stone-kicking eradicated. Um’s & Er’s rendered obsolete. Motto: ‘Though ‘Tis Method Yet There’s Madness In It’.” I waited inside and presently heard the usual footsteps of her and her entourage. They paused outside and from the entire group I only heard one laugh – that of Monroe. The door burst open and in she came, slamming the door in the faces of her livid retainers. From that moment on, whenever the poor girl could not face the problems of her hybrid existence – which was frequently – she popped in for a natter and a giggle. Of course as a sex symbol she was stunning, but sadly, she must be one of the silliest women I have ever met.”

The film proved less than impressive, both critically and financially. It recorded a profit, but many critics panned it for being slow-moving.

The production of this film serves as the backdrop for the 2011 film My Week with Marilyn.

The 2011 film My Week with Marilyn depicts the week in which Monroe spent being escorted around London by personal assistant Colin Clark, during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. The movie is largely based upon two books by Clark recounting his experiences during the production: My Week with Marilyn (2000) and The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me: Six Months on the Set With Marilyn and Olivier (1996). Both books and the film depict Monroe striking up a friendship and alleged semi-romantic relationship with Clark for a brief time during production.

Three or four different copies of Marilyn Monroe’s white dress were made to accommodate her fluctuating size. At the time she was suffering from various illnesses which caused severe amounts of water retention. She also suffered a miscarriage during filming.

Marilyn Monroe reportedly received 75% of the film’s profits, such was the deal set up with her own production company.

Laurence Olivier had already played the part of the Prince Regent on the London stage, alongside his wife Vivien Leigh.

This is the only film that Marilyn Monroe made outside of the American continent.

The Prince and the Showgirl was the first film from Marilyn Monroe’s own production company.

Laurence Olivier was reputedly so driven mad by Marilyn Monroe’s difficult behaviour that he practically abandoned directing for the screen, only returning in 1970 to make Three Sisters (1970).

Writer Terence Rattigan had initially expressed doubts about an actor of Laurence Olivier’s stature playing such a mundane character. His doubts were allayed when he saw Olivier play the part on stage.

Laurence Olivier (Prince Charles) had already been contracted when Marilyn Monroe (Elsie Marina) came on board. Contractually, she was unable to remove him.

The only film directed by Laurence Olivier not to be scored by William Walton.

Laurence Olivier’s then wife Vivien Leigh was supposed to reprise her stage role as Elsie Marina but, at 43, she was considered too old by the time that the film was made in 1956.

Marilyn got one-up on Olivier when she discovered that someone in the crew-she suspected it was Olivier himself- was running a book on how many takes she would need for a fairly tricky scene. She went home and studied hard so that on the day of shooting she was more than prepared. She delivered the line and then left the room, closing the door behind her as directed. However, within seconds the door flew open again and Marilyn stuck her head through the gap. ‘Pretty good huh?’ she exclaimed, before shutting the door for a final time. This line was not in the script and was an obvious dig at those who doubted her ability to do the scene. However, it fitted in so well that it wasn’t re-shot and can now be seen in the final cut.

The film was originally planned as a musical until Marilyn Monroe’s then husband, Arthur Miller, persuaded her to drop the songs.

This was the first non-Shakespearean film directed by Laurence Olivier.

Watch Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop.

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