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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


Don’t Bother to Knock


Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

     I have very recently changed my tune about Marilyn Monroe after reading a post on Backlots about how she was horribly typecast into all those roles I hate. Although my better understanding of the star does make me more accepting of her work, I still do not expect to pursue her dumb blonde, sex goddess type roles. Don’t Bother to Knock is not one of those despite what the poster might suggest. Monroe had already begun to be blocked into the aforementioned roles but got a great opportunity with this flick to show a more intense side.

     She plays Nell, who at the outset shows shades of the ignorant dames we often saw Monroe embody. The girl is niece to an elevator operator in a hotel who has arranged for Nell to babysit a 7-year-old girl while her parents attend an event at the hotel’s ballroom. She comes on her uncle Eddie’s (Elisha Cook Jr.) recommendation, so the man takes a particular interest in making sure all goes well. After reading the girl, Bunny (Donna Corcoran), a story, Nell demands she go to sleep and we see that she is not necessarily fond of children. Left alone in the adjoining room, Nell ends up trying on the mother’s diamond bracelet and earings and before we know it she’s wearing the woman’s dressing gown.
     Meanwhile, Richard Widmark playing Jed is in another part of the hotel that wraps around and allows his room to be opposite where Nell is situated. He has just received a breakup letter from his girlfriend, the hotel singer, and so is intrigued when he spots Nell across the courtyard. He rings her room and the two get to chatting. Next Jed is in her room and Nell’s behavior becomes all the more strange. When Jed speaks about being a pilot, a fog seems to enter Nell’s gaze as she starts insisting that he did not die over the Pacific in 1945. She has transposed Jed in the place of her dead fiancée and so kisses him and he reciprocates. Bunny walks in on this resulting in considerable anger from Nell as the little girl reveals that the woman is wearing her mother’s things and is not who she’s been telling Jed she is. After a tantrum, Jed invites the girl into the main room. She gazes happily outside from the window sill and, with Nell’s hand on her back, looks like she might fall at any moment.
     The remainder of the evening is marked by Nell’s increasing disdain for the little girl, the intrusion of Eddie and some nosy neighbors into the goings on of room 809, and Jed’s constant questioning of why he remains in the room. Nell’s psychosis reaches a frightening climax that ultimately mends Jed’s relationship with the singer.
     Monroe’s beauty here is purposefully diminished –as much as one can with a looker like she– by a darker hair color and plain, conservative dress. She is a meek character to start, but the anger she showers on the little girl show a darker side perpetuated by her confusion over Jed’s identity. Don’t Bother to Knock could easily have become a campy thriller, but Monroe restrains her performance so that only the subtlest image of an off-center personality shows through. This really was a thrilling picture that consistently sets the audience on edge. I found myself nervous just seeing Nell in the mother’s jewels, fearing she would be discovered. Little did I know how much more criminal the activities would become.
  • Don’t Bother to Knock is set for 7:30 a.m. ET Nov. 26 on TCM.

The Misfits


The Misfits (1961)

     I have never been sold on Marilyn Monroe as anything but a ditz with an outrageous body. In the handful of pictures I have seen, she always comes off as ignorant and naive so that I feel no option but to assume this is how she was off-screen. In her last work, however, Monroe gives us an entirely different person to consider and one that had me a bit baffled.

     The Misfits was a movie outwardly surrounded by tragedy. Not only was it Monroe’s last completed film before her mysterious death, but it also marked the last appearance of Clark Gable, who suffered a heart attack the day after shooting wrapped and died 11 days later. Ironically, he was quoted as saying on the last day on set, “Christ, I’m glad this picture’s finished. She [Monroe] damn near gave me a heart attack.” Some did blame Monroe for that heart attack because her unreliability on the set –showing up late, etc.– left the older actor in the desert heat for extended periods of time and even prompted him to do his own stunts to fight the boredom. Besides those two, the movie also co-starred Montgomery Clift, who after being somewhat disfigured in a car accident during the filming of Raintree County had become an alcoholic and would make only two more films before dying in 1966 of heart disease. A doctor was on set at all times for both Monroe and Clift.

     Directed by John Huston, The Misfits is a tale of the random adventures of five individuals thrown together somewhat by chance. Monroe’s Roslyn is in Reno to secure a divorce from a man who was emotionally absent from their relationship. She rooms with Isabelle (Thelma Ritter), a middle-aged divorcee who has made a life of standing witness at divorce trials. The film commences with mechanic Guido, expertly played by Eli Wallach, examining Roslyn’s beat up but brand new car –a divorce gift from her husband. When he spots the attractive Roslyn he offers to drive the two to the courthouse. The three later reunite in a bar where Guido is drinking with friend and cowboy Gay (Gable). The four hit it off and the men escort the women out of town to Guido’s incomplete house in the desert.

     Despite Guido’s clear romantic interest in Roslyn from the get-go, Gay is the one who manages to coax the young woman into a relationship of sorts despite their considerable age difference. The quartet later picks up bull rider Perce (Clift) to help them go “mustanging” and this man also takes a shine to Roslyn. We learn quickly that Roslyn is made hysterical by the idea of harm to defenseless creatures. She objects to Gay’s desire to shoot rabbits nibbling at their vegetable garden, is horrified that the capture of mustangs is so they may be sold to a dog-food manufacturer, and takes to tears when she sees Perce thrown from a bronco and then a bull. The movie closes on Gay and Roslyn driving away from the remote mountain scene where the gang had wrangled six horses with us uncertain whether the two will reconcile their differences and the gal will stay on in Nevada.

     The Misfits was the first instance when I witnessed Monroe in a character that was realistic to the physicality she brought to the screen. The men in this movie treat her exactly as she is: a voluptuous, young, beautiful creature distracting enough to lead to traffic accidents. In the other pictures I have seen, Monroe’s extreme body shape always seemed secondary to whatever character she took on as if she was a woman who just happened to have enormous breasts. Her emotional acting was also astonishing. Although Roslyn still has a young personality marked by naiveté, she is also deeply troubled. Much of Monroe’s acting here is conveyed only through her face. She also offers some surprising outbursts of anger at her on-screen contemporaries. The Misfits was written by Arthur Miller for Monroe, his wife at the time, which I think is why it worked out so well for her performance-wise.

     Gable, too, gives a strikingly different performance than those to which audiences were accustomed from his work at the peak of his career. He gives a particularly good show when drunk and screaming atop a car for his adult children who have fled the premises. Some contend he was mirroring the Method acting styles of his costars. The man also was surely at home in the part of a cowboy given he enjoyed farm life off-screen as well.

  • The Misfits is set for 1:30 a.m. ET Sept. 12 and 2:15 a.m. Nov. 19 on TCM.

Source: Robert Osborne, TCM.com

The Great Race

Ring a Ding Ding

The Great Race (1965)

     With the death of Blake Edwards last week, it was a lucky coincidence I had recorded The Great Race recently. What Edwards had hoped to be “the funniest movie ever” is a great example of the writer/director’s work and one that I imagine will continue to entertain audiences of all ages for decades to come. Edwards was best known for his comedies — The Pink Panther movies and Operation Petticoat — but also contributed significant dramatic films — Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Days of Wine and Roses.

     By re-teaming the duo seen in the wildly successful Some Like it Hot from 1959 (not his film), Edwards might not have made THE funniest movie of all time, but he sure crammed a load of laughs into this nearly three-hour saga. The relationship between Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in The Great Race, however, is quite different from the pals who sought Marilyn Monroe‘s affection in their previous on-screen pairing. Curtis plays the Great Leslie, a stunt man of sorts who arranges an automobile race from New York to Paris (moving westward). Lemmon plays Professor Fate, the villain who seeks to foil Leslie’s stunts and to defeat him in the race. Natalie Wood is the suffragette who in this early 20th century time period seeks equality for women. She wrangles herself a test job as a reporter who will participate in and cover the race.

     The story is just a device by which Edwards was able to insert gag after hijink and slapstick galore onto the big screen. Wood is beautiful if not utterly annoying, Curtis is his usual dry, handsome, not-contributing-a-whole-lot sort; and Lemmon steals the show with sidekick Peter Falk as Max. Lemmon is almost unrecognizable with black hair and mustache, hunched back and smarmy villanous laugh. What he is recognizable as, however, is the bad guy from the Wacky Races cartoons that Hanna-Barbera premiered not long after this movie. Dick Dastardly and his canine sidekick Muttley (who really does resemble Falk) starred in the race-based cartoons that I remember watching as a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. This would be yet another example of when Edwards managed to create such absurd and memorable characters that they were equally suited to the world of animation as they were in live-action (the other being Pink Panther, of course).

Max & Prof. Fate/Dick Dastardly & Muttley

     I regret that I only became aware of Edwards over the course of the past months through the Pink Panther movies. Even as an Audrey Hepburn fan, I was not aware he was the brains behind possibly her most famous role. His sort of comedy is the type that really appeals to me — it is stupid, easy laughs over which a person of any age or intelligence level can crack up. Although it is long, The Great Race is the sort of movie you can pick up and leave off anywhere in the film because, as I mentioned, it is not about the story or the climax but rather is important for the fun one has along the way.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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