Prince and the Showgirl, The (1957)

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), produced and directed by Laurence Olivier.

In 1911 London, the haughty Regent of Carpathia expects the British Foreign Office to pimp him a young woman. Well, that's their job. The American showgirl selected for the task is at first startled by the arrangement, but even drunk she is more than a match for the aristocrat. He's so inept at seduction that she actually starts falling for him and employs reverse seduction of her own. Through one thing and another (royal coronation, grand ball, Balkan political intrigues) she can't get away and wears the same dress three days running.

It's a mildly entertaining romantic comedy, witty in spots and lushly photographed by Jack Cardiff. Its major attractions are two bona-fide superstars in Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, and that this was the film they were making in My Week with Marilyn (2011).

The later film emphasizes Monroe's problems, her struggles with the role and the British exasperation with an American star who can't do the job. (They couldn't fire her because she was one of the producers). But you don't see this when watching the original: Monroe is lively, clever, and employs her glamour and comic talents with skill.

It's hard to judge acting when accompanied by blinding star power. I feel the same way about John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

Her fish-out-of-water acting actually helps the American-conquers-Euro-nobility story. Like many Americans she is both impressed by and indifferent to royal grandiosity. She struggles to get the titles correct but finally says "Oh, to hell with it." It's American informality vs British stiffness.

Olivier is smart enough to use this, playing off against his own august demeanor. (Claire Bloom called him "a cold lover"). The later film also recognizes that although Monroe was not a polished actress, the others yearned for her vitality.

The cathedral coronation scene is an odd moment, when the young woman is unexpectedly seduced by the historic grandeur. No one does spiritually fraught monarchy like the Brits.

Terence Rattigan screenplay from one of his plays.