Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The Prince and the Showgirl", the film behind "My Week with Marilyn"

The film whose making inspired “My Week with Marilyn” last year sat on a very long waiting list at Netflix. That's "The Prince and the Showgirl".  Finally, it arrived in a red envelope, apparently a new disc, in perfect condition.
The 1957 film, from Warner Brothers and Pinewood Studios in London, is based on Terrence Rattigan’s play “The Sleeping Prince” (not “The Student Prince”).  For some reason, when I write about Norma Jeane Mortenson (Baker), I tend to type "Maryland" instead of "Marilyn". 

The Technicolor, of the indoor royal sets, is as garish as I’ve ever seen.  The outdoor scenes, though, appear to have used a lot of matte paintings.

And showgirl, Elsie (Marilyn Monroe) has just one song, near the end, so this romantic comedy is not a “musical”.  But there’s grand music at the Coronation scene (King George in 1911), starting with Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad” and migrating into other medley before returning to Parry.  This hymn was used by William and Catherine at their 2011 wedding (TV blog, April 29, 2011).

The plot, while sounding fabricated, is serious.  The British government is pampering royalty in the tense years just before World War I would break out.  The middle-aged Prince Regent  (Laurence Olivier, who directed the film) from the fictitious country of Carpathia is invited to a performance of “The Coconut Girl” (nothing to do with “The Sunbonnet Girl”, the simplistic operetta of my own middle school days).  He meets Elsie, and is infatuated enough to invite her back to his hotel, discretely, for a private supper. Because she can speak German, she learns of a plot by the actual king, a teenage boy (Jeremy Spenser) to take power and build an alliance with pre-war Germany. Of course, we know that WWI would start with an incident in Serbia in the Balkans in 1914.

The DVD is formatted to fit the player automatically; when fitted to widescreen, in a few scenes early, the faces looked widened.  The original film was just 4:3 aspect, common until the late 50s. The DVD has a black-and-white newsreel announcing the production of the film. 

Picture: That's my parents' apartment, around 1942, estate photo. 

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