Marilyn Wins the Battle in ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’

The on-set tensions between Marilyn and Sir Laurence Olivier are now legendary, but what of the film they made together? In the latest instalment of his series for Classic Movie Hub, Gary Vitacco Robles looks at The Prince and the Showgirl.

“As her first completely independent production, Monroe portrays the sweet and diplomatic showgirl — an innate sage — who reconciles members of a royal family and prevents a world war. Monroe herself was amused by the casting of Olivier as the pompous, arrogant Balkan Regent of Carpathia whose cold heart the showgirl thaws. With serious ambition, Monroe — aided by photographer and business partner Milton Greene — took Rattigan’s three-act drawing-room comedy out of the drawing room but essentially kept the plot intact.

The Prince and the Showgirl was completed in less time than scheduled, came in under budget, and required only two days of reshoots, Oliver and Monroe reshot only two scenes in two days with no need for multiple takes. Olivier struggled to infuse wit and sparkle into the scene of their meeting and eventually conceded that Monroe’s Method inspiration of thinking of Coca Cola and Frank Sinatra to motivate her acting was the best approach. ‘God! Needless to say, it worked,’ Olivier wrote. ‘Enough to make a man cut his throat, enough for this man, anyway.’

Monroe preferred the film’s first edited edition and voiced serious concerns about the final version. In memos, she objected to the slow pacing of the first third of the film and believed the comedic scenes had been ‘flattened out’ by a substitution of ‘inferior’ takes with ‘flatter performances lacking the energy and brightness that you saw in New York.’ Monroe also took exception with the editing: ‘Jump cutting kills the points, as in the fainting scene.’ She added, ‘The story gets lost in the coronation scene’ and that ‘American audiences are not as moved by stained-glass windows as the British are, and we threaten them with boredom.’ Warner Brothers Studios stood firm with no major editing changes.

None of the on-set tension between the co-stars transcended to film. The Prince & the Showgirl ranked tenth in the year’s top moneymakers and garnered many awards in Europe and Great Britain. Monroe was nominated for Best Foreign Actress by the British Academy Awards, and the film received nominations for the British Academy Award in the categories of Best British Actor, Best British Film, Best British screenplay, and Best Film from any source.

‘It’s making money, but that’s the crazy thing,’ Monroe told photographer George Barris about the film a few weeks before her death. ‘I’ve been asked to sell it to TV, but I’ve refused. I feel it’s one of my financial assets and I want to hold onto it … it did very well in Europe; I got the French and Italian awards.'”