Sunday, 18 December 2016
Movie Review: The Prince And The Showgirl (1957)
It's 1911 in London, and members of the royal family of Carpathia, a fictional Balkan country, arrive to witness the inauguration of a new British monarch. Charles (Laurence Olivier), the Prince Regent of Carpathia, is ruling the strategically important nation until his 16 year old son King Nicolas (Jeremy Spenser) achieves adulthood. The Dowager Queen (Sybil Thorndike), Charles mother-in-law, is the other key member of the delegation. British civil servant Northbrook (Richard Wattis) is assigned to satisfy Charles' every demand. The Prince goes looking for female companionship for the night, and picks unknown American stage actress Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe) to join him for a private dinner and romance at the Embassy.
Elsie resists the Prince's stiff and insensitive romantic advances, but nevertheless gradually starts to develop an affection for him. Meantime, she also gets wind of political turmoil back in Carpathia, with King Nicolas seemingly involved in a plot to overthrow his father. As the day of the inauguration arrives, Elsie believes she has survived her interactions with the royals, but she soon finds herself in the company of the Dowager Queen attending the grand ceremony, and then playing peacemaker between the Prince and the young King-to-be.
Produced and directed by Olivier, The Prince And The Showgirl is an adaptation of the 1953 play The Sleeping Prince. The film effectively locks itself into the Embassy of Carpathia for 115 endless minutes, with characters swinging in and out of rooms for no particular reason other than to introduce some camera movement. There are a few touristy scenes related to the inauguration event, and these could have been lifted from any British travel advertorial.
Fundamentally, the film never comes close to a convincing romance between Charles and Elsie. He is a boorish lout looking for a one-night floozy, she is suddenly much savvier than a ditzy showgirl. Elsie only starts to express some feeling for the Prince when he overloads her with alcohol, and at no time does he actually do anything to deserve any sympathy. What remains is a stiff Olivier performance playing a cartoonish villain, and a game Monroe doing all she can to match her co-star in the acting department, but it is all for naught. Not even a hint of a spark breaks through the listless Terence Rattigan screenplay.
The subplots related to the political turmoil in Carpathia and the family intrigue swirling between the Prince, the King and the Queen are neither properly developed nor remotely successful as comedy.
The Prince And The Showgirl incessantly attempts to milk a single joke about how to properly address the various members of the Carpathian royal family. The simple answer is to summarily send them all back to Carpathia, unaddressed.
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