The Prince and the Showgirl

Ring a Ding Ding

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)

     Not a week after viewing my first Laurence Olivier-in-color movie I found myself watching yet another one. Despite what the movie poster might suggest, The Prince and the Showgirl is not about a sexy Marilyn Monroe who seduces royalty. The plot is actually the other way around. In fact it is difficult to find much romance in Laurence Olivier‘s male lead who is the uptight regent of Carpathia (the husband of the now-deceased queen and father to the young king). Monroe’s chorus girl, however, is full of fluffy notions of love and the 1911 morals to go with them.

     When this Regent meets with the players in a theatrical show in London, Monroe’s Elsie makes a gaffe as her gown’s should strap snaps and she gropes to save her breast from exposure. Despite this encounter, the stoic Carpathian shows no special interest in the girl yet sends word for her to join him in dinner the next night. Upon arrival at the Carpathian embassy, Elsie nearly flees when she learns this dinner is a private one in the Regent’s room. She predicts how the dialogue will play out but stays regardless. The young woman refuses to let the official take advantage of her and cries for more romance –such as perfumed air and music– and ultimately passes out drunk on the floor.

     While trying to escape the premises the next morning after receiving a parting medal from the Regent, Elsie is snatched up by the Queen Dowager (Sybil Thorndike) who needs a lady in waiting to attend the British coronation ceremony. Wearing the same white gown she came in, Elsie is dressed up with another medal and some jewels before joining the family for the event. About to leave the Carpathian royalty’s presence yet again, Elsie is invited by young King Nicholas (Jeremy Spenser) to accompany him to a ball. The Regent is trying to distract himself from the feelings he is developing for Elsie by planning a late-night tryst with another woman at the ball, but later that evening our protagonists will have a more successful repeat of their first date.

     Forget everything you know about Monroe’s characters because she goes in a different direction for The Prince and the Showgirl. The breathy, flirty dumb body of past films is thrown out the window for the role of Elsie, who is smart and conservative in her romantic morals. Also forget any romantic notions you might have about Olivier. His monocled Regent is so cold and emotionless one finds it impossible that Elsie could have fallen in love with him. That is part of the story, however, the softening of this stone man.

     Monroe was the brains behind getting The Prince and the Showgirl produced. She purchased the rights to the play “The Sleeping Prince” and approached Olivier about co-producing the movie and directing it. Despite warnings from others that Monroe was a handful to work with, Olivier agreed. The recently released contemporary film My Week with Marilyn is a dramatized behind-the-scenes look at the making of this movie.

  • The Prince and the Showgirl is set for midnight ET Jan. 20 on TCM.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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