The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)

Directed by Laurence Olivier

This is one of those movies that is okay, but not much more, nor much less. It isn’t bad but it isn’t good either.

However, if you like Marilyn Monroe, it’s a great one to watch because here she is playing the Marilyn of our collective imagination. And it’s really quite a delight.

In fact, I think this may have been partly what Laurence Olivier (who starred and also directed) was trying to achieve in The Prince and the Showgirl. The movie parodies the popular images of both Olivier and Monroe.

He is the stuffed shirt, the aristocrat – smart, stiff and essentially humourless. Monroe’s character is a showgirl – breezy, giggly and, on the surface, the dumb blonde stereotype.

The film’s gimmick, or conceit, is that she is anything but.

Laurence Olivier as the Regent and Marilyn Monroe as Elsie, the showgirl.

She is actually smarter and quicker than Olivier’s regent but hides her intelligence behind a façade of being an airhead.

There are quite a few truly funny scenes in the movie. And hearing Marilyn’s giggle is utterly charming. Unfortunately, there are also scenes that don’t work.

Oddly, while Olivier is known to all of us as the great actor, it is Marilyn who is most natural in the film. Olivier just seems too awkward.

(Imagine how much funnier this movie would have been with a Cary Grant in Olivier’s role.)

There is also one scene, the coronation of King George V, that is a complete waste of time. Typical of films of this period, the movie suddenly stops to show us some pomp and circumstance, scenery and so on.

The Regent and Elsie appear to be getting along.

Perhaps at the time it might have been impressive (though I doubt this), but then or now, the result is a dam in the flow of the film.

Overall, it’s a nice movie but a bit frustrating because it could have been much better.

As often happens in Monroe films, Marilyn is great but the movie surrounding her fails to rise to the occasion.

In some of these movies, it is almost as if everyone stops trying in the belief that Marilyn alone is enough to make the film work. It isn’t, of course, and we’re left disappointed by an awareness of what might have been accomplished.

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