‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ on Blu-Ray

The Prince and the Showgirl has been released on Blu-Ray for the first time via the Warner Archive Collection – with Clash By Night set to follow in May. As shown below, the colour restoration is a vast improvement on the faded DVD transfer – however, it also seems to have been cropped. A pity, as the BBC regularly shows an HD version in its full ratio.

Thanks to Mikael at Marilyn Remembered

Writing for Cinema Retro magazine, Raymond Benson is enchanted…

“The 1957 romantic comedy, The Prince and the Showgirl has likely received more press about what went on behind the scenes and the notorious animosity that existed between the two stars, Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier … The 2011 picture (was it that long ago?), My Week with Marilyn, featuring Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, depicted the stormy relationship between Monroe and Olivier and how Monroe behaved rather, well, erratically … Unless one had actually seen the real movie, The Prince and the Showgirl, one came away from My Week with Marilyn with the impression that Monroe was a mess, that Olivier hated her guts, and that the movie they made was a disaster.

The Prince and the Showgirl is actually a charming, well-acted, funny, and touching piece of work. This reviewer is happy to say that Marilyn Monroe is marvelous in the role of Elsie Marina, a chorus line showgirl of a musical playing in London’s West End in 1911, when the picture takes place. Monroe displays impressive comic timing and wit, does a pratfall or two with aplomb, and categorially holds her own against the likes of renowned thespian Olivier. He, too, is quite winning, even though his accent as a ‘Carpathian’ prince regent (from the Balkans) sometimes causes one’s eyebrows to rise. But make no mistake—this movie belongs to Monroe, and this reviewer would easily cite her performance here ranked in her top five.

Funny how the bad rep of a movie and its making clouds what one really sees on the screen.

Granted, The Prince and the Showgirl was received with lukewarm praise upon its release. The BAFTAs honored it with several nominations, including Actor, ‘Foreign’ Actress, Screenplay, and British Film. It received no Academy Award nominations. The film did very well in the UK, likely due to Olivier’s presence. Perhaps the picture’s indifferent reception in the USA was due to its rather slow pace, length (a few minutes under two hours), and the fact that the story takes place mostly in static one-room sequences of the Carpathian Embassy. That’s not surprising, because the movie is based on a stage play … Perhaps Rattigan adhered too closely to the conventions of the stage. All of these things are indeed flaws in the motion picture.

Still … this is a worthwhile romantic comedy on the strength of the two leads, especially Monroe’s luminous performance. Not only does she look fantastic, as always, but she truly does light up the screen with charisma, warmth, and delight … The Warner Archive has released a region-free, beautifully rendered, restored presentation of the feature film in high definition. That 1950s-era Technicolor pops out, and the costumes are undeniably gorgeous.

The Prince and the Showgirl is enthusiastically recommended for fans of Marilyn Monroe. Fans of Olivier, who does what he can when someone so appealing is sharing the screen with him, will find it interesting. For this reviewer’s money, The Prince and the Showgirl is far more enjoyable than My Week with Marilyn, which now seems to be a rather sordid coda to this romantic comedy bauble.”

Glenn Erickson also gives the movie a rave review for Trailers From Hell.

“What a difference a digital remaster makes!  Marilyn Monroe’s self-produced English comedy leaps back to life with a new restoration of Jack Cardiff’s stunning colour cinematography. Monroe’s a delight co-starring with Laurence Olivier, amid the stuffy formal-dress diplomacy and giddy midnight seductions. Adapted from a formal stage play, the farce of manners is far more enjoyable than I remembered. Olivier delivers an exacting high-toned performance, but Monroe takes full control with her first smile.

To be honest, older TV prints and a 2002 DVD of this title were not very good. This terrific digital remaster is like eyewash. The show is now so arresting that our eyes never wander — even when Marilyn’s not on the screen.

Film art aside, The Prince and the Showgirl was surely an attempt by Monroe and Olivier’s production companies to earn for themselves some of the money they earned for the big studios. A prestigious production made with the finest British craftsmen available, it was critically judged to be a little lacking in overall pizazz. It’s maybe a little old-fashioned, but it’s still far better than average for a ’50s romantic comedy.

Don’t let the sultry cover art fool you – there’s nothing quite so darkly provocative in The Prince and the Showgirl, which plays out mostly in brightly lit drawing rooms and on palatial staircases. The traditional three-act play spends much of its time mulling over the petty politics of an Eastern European monarchy. Standing out in the excellent ensemble is the veddy proper Richard Wattis (The Abominable Snowman) who ties the show together like Lebowski’s rug. The capable Wattis has almost as much screen time with MM as does ‘Laurence of Olivier’ himself.

It’s not a bad play, and the speeches by playwright-screenwriter Terence Rattigan (Brighton Rock) are both witty and well-suited for Marilyn. He uses the running gag of a large and ungainly medal being pinned and re-pinnned to MM’s dress, a ritual that’s not as tasteless as it reads. Marilyn worshippers like Norman Mailer got giddy on the thought that the sensuality in Marilyn’s screen persona was some out-of-control force of nature. But it should seem obvious that sex appeal was the issue that Marilyn never had any doubts about. She’s actually perfectly charming here — practically unaffected. Marilyn also had to be in a good emotional state during production — she delivers volumes of complicated dialogue, without a hitch.

This is yet another movie that reinforces the old adage that whenever Marilyn appears on screen, other actors cease to exist. She holds our interest no matter what she’s doing. For all his precision and acting finesse, Olivier just can’t compete. It’s not a matter of clashing styles. They mesh quite well in their shared scenes. Olivier’s Charles the Regent begins as a self-satisfied royal with a monocle; in one of his introductory closeups, his ‘official’ smile makes him look almost like Bela Lugosi dressed for the opera. The stiff martinet warms up in small stages, but Olivier never gives in to sentiment.

Should we be surprised that Marilyn should pick such a stereotypical role? Elsie is yet another free spirit, whose honest reactions clash with the ritualized propriety at the Embassy. She squeals and giggles whenever the mood strikes her, yet she has enough gravity so as not to be a Ditz. We grant that Elsie is a variant of Marilyn’s dumb blonde, even if that façade hides the instinctual sage beneath. She’d just spent years lobbying studios to let her extend her range in shows like Bus Stop. It’s likely that the class factor of being billed opposite Laurence was distinction enough for her.

The Prince and the Showgirl stays light overall. It has its touching moments but never shakes us up with deep emotions. If something transcendent was meant to occur in the ballroom scene or the big church scene, it didn’t happen. The final impression is one of endearment, when audiences likely wanted the sex fireworks depicted on the poster art. Billy Wilder would have made more of the ‘turnabout’ seduction scene, where Elsie goes after the Regent with his own tricks.”

Over at the Geek Vibes Nation blog, Dillon Gonzales is also impressed.

“Warner Archive presents The Prince and The Showgirl with a stunning new 1080p master transfer sourced from a 4K scan of the Original Camera Negative. From the earliest moments, you will be blown away by the vivid quality of the picture that proves to be another standout from the label. The film features some dazzling colors within the opulent costumes and production design that radiate off the screen. There is so much detail and clarity packed into every frame with a sterling amount of natural film grain intact. The film is virtually flawless with no noticeable instances of damage or dirt detected here … The Blu-Ray comes with a restored DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that is likewise quite amazing. This track handles everything that is thrown at it with perfect fidelity. Dialogue and background noises are represented faithfully along with the vibrant score from Richard Addinsell. The restoration has eliminated pretty much all age related wear and tear to the track such as hissing and popping.

The Prince and The Showgirl is a bit inconsistent as an overall feature, but it provides a truly delightful and hilarious performance from Marilyn Monroe which makes this well worth a watch. At nearly two hours, the film is drawn out unnecessarily, and the story never really gives Monroe anything in the realm of a compelling romantic equal. The craftwork put into bringing this world to life is beyond questions, but the narrative needed a bit of fine-tuning. Warner Archive has released a Blu-Ray that features a 5-star A/V presentation that really brings a whole new life to this story. If you are a Marilyn Monroe fan, you should consider this a welcome addition to your collection.”

Pointing out the lack of extras, Randy Miller III gives it a middling 6/10 overall at BluRay.com.

“‘Opposites attract’ wasn’t exactly a new concept in romantic comedies, but here the differences between voluptuous, naïve American Elsie Marina and stuffy old Carpathian Prince (Regent) Charles are so extreme that it’s almost crazy enough to work. Though likely enjoyable for die-hard fans of either actor, The Prince and the Showgirl is too lightweight and uneven to truly register as anything other than a cinematic curiosity or an even more watered-down precursor to Pretty Woman.

Since most rom-coms rarely start off at full steam, The Prince and the Showgirl introduces its two titular characters separately … Of course, what follows is a bit of will-they-or-won’t they rom-com teasing… combined with a dose of political intrigue, once Elsie overhears a secret behind-the-scenes plot to overthrow Charles involving members of the German embassy. It’s the second oddly-paired element in The Prince and the Showgirl but goes down a little smoother, because this film’s primary plot – the budding romance between our two leads – is lukewarm at best, never really achieving that crucial ‘sizzle factor’ that Olivier was clearly aiming for. Try as they might, Elsie and Charlies never feel like all that great of a match, although their separate performances are decent enough to please fans of either actor.

In fact, ‘separate performances’ is probably the biggest reason why The Prince and the Showgirl achieves little more than international appeal bolstered by its obvious star power. Olivier’s film famously fell victim to trouble behind the scenes, with stories involving perpetually late and inconsistent appearances by Monroe … This can likely be chalked up to a potential vanity project gone awry (which might actually apply to either side)… but any way you slice it, Monroe and Olivier’s backstage turbulence sadly doesn’t translate to much on-screen heat.

Yet despite its obvious flaws, The Prince and the Showgirl still has an unshakable charm that’s aided by the supporting cast and its production and costume design, all of which work overtime to fill in the blanks when its A-story doesn’t generate enough excitement to keep things rolling. (At 117 minutes it’s also a bit long in the tooth, but that’s much more of a subjective criticism.) Either way, Warner Archive has offered ample support for the film’s obvious technical strengths in the form of another top-tier restoration that makes The Prince and the Showgirl sparkle like new. While its bonus features come up disappointingly short, this is an otherwise solid package for fans of the film.”

In his review for Home Theatre Forum, Matt Hough gives the movie a 3/5 rating, but the transfer scores a full 5/5.

“A slight comedy of manners pitting two of the cinema’s biggest stars of the era, Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, in a romantic intrigue in which everyone wins and everyone loses, The Prince and the Showgirl is not among the more memorable films for either of the two luminaries. Stories abound of the difficulties in getting it made (with most of the blame weighing on the fragile, conflicted Monroe’s pretty shoulders), but there is no evidence of that on the screen; merely that for such a fluffy confection, two hours seems about twenty minutes too long for comfort.

Laurence Olivier’s direction keeps things moving quite handily in all of the embassy scenes (he stages some very amusing backing exits from the Regent’s presence), but he misjudges interest in the coronation, extending that sequence to almost unendurable length especially since we don’t actually see anything but the reactions of various characters to the ongoing proceedings. Olivier does realize that the film’s greatest asset is Monroe, so he keeps the camera on her quite a lot and mixes his shots with close-ups, medium shots, and full body takes, all to show the star at possibly the pinnacle of her beauty before fluctuating weight problems began to plague shooting schedules in her later movies. Rattigan does have the clever idea in the story’s second half to allow Elsie to turn the tables on the Regent and stage her own seduction modeled on his own earlier attempts at breaking down her resistance, but by then it’s clear that their paths aren’t really destined to intersect for long.

We won’t ever know how many takes were necessary to get this performance out of Marilyn, heavy on dialogue (since it was, of course, a play first with Vivien Leigh playing her role in the London production) and with lots of physical business which always proved a struggle for her. No matter, what’s on the screen shows Marilyn to be confident and controlled and clearly the star of the show. In fact, her performance won for her the only serious acting award she ever earned (ignoring the several Golden Globes and Photoplay medals): Italy’s David di Donatello award for the year’s best foreign actress. Laurence Olivier’s performance attempts charm with his German-tinged accent (which he’d use quite a few more times in his career in movies like Marathon Man, The Boys from Brazil, and The Jazz Singer), but it’s not the smooth, effortless performance that someone like David Niven or Ray Milland could deliver with witty, comic lines. Much better is Sybil Thorndike who’s hilarious as the slightly befuddled queen mother, convinced Elsie is friends with Sarah Bernhardt and chastising her for wearing the same dress for days at a time (the very thing most will be thinking even before it’s mentioned after seeing Monroe in the same form-fitting ivory gown throughout most of the movie). Jeremy Spenser is apt as the youthful future king, and Richard Wattis makes great work of his Northbrook who keeps the wheels spinning flawlessly as the British foreign office representative.”

And finally, some posts from fans on social media…