The Prince and the Showgirl

by Glenn Erickson Mar 25, 2023

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 color 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.

The Prince and the Showgirl
Warner Archive Collection
1957 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 117 min. / Available at WAC-Amazon / Street Date March 14, 2023 / 24.49
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Wattis, Sybil Thorndike, Jeremy Spenser, Vera Day, Maxine Audley, Jean Kent, Esmond Knight, Carole Gray.
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Production Designer: Roger Furse
Art Director: Carmen Dillon
Film Editor: Jack Harris
Dialogue Coach: Paula Strasberg
Original Music: Richard Addinsell
Screenplay by Terence Rattigan from his play The Sleeping Prince
Executive Producer Milton H. Greene
Produced and Directed by
Laurence Olivier

Does anybody remember the 2011 feature My Week with Marilyn with Michelle Williams and Eddie Redmayne?  It might be fun to see after screening The Prince and the Showgirl, a film made by Marilyn Monroe’s own production company. The clueless Oscar people voted Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist as the Best Picture of 2011, but the Michelle Williams film has a better sense of film history — it’s about Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl in London of 1956.

The disc at hand is the original 1957 movie in which Monroe paired herself with one of the world’s greatest actors, Laurence Olivier, in an adaptation of a play Olivier had starred in several years earlier. The show isn’t listed among Ms. Monroe’s great film accomplishments, a judgment that may improve with this release. Distributor Warner Bros.’ original release prints for The Prince and the Showgirl were in Technicolor, and the cinematographer of note was the legendary Jack Cardiff, a favorite of screen sirens Deborah Kerr,  Ava Gardner and  Sophia Loren.

Film restorations really do make a difference.

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 juddged 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.

London, 1909. Elsie Marina, an American actress working in turn-of-the-century London (Marilyn Monroe) has a backstage accident with a dress strap while being introduced to Charles, the Regent of Carpathia (Laurence Olivier), who sees that she is invited to a midnight dinner at the Carpathian embassy. It’s a bald seduction attempt by the Regent, but the experienced Elsie has no difficulty dodging his advances. The stuffy Regent Charles is alternately pleased and annoyed with Elsie, but his attempts to send her away keep getting delayed, by the British liason Northbrook (Richard Wattis), and by his own young son, King Nicolas, who is planning a coup (Jeremy Spenser of Summertime). Charles’s mother the Queen dowager (Sybil Thorndike of Shake Hands with the Devil) also invited Elsie to accompany her on parade. She insists that Elsie understands the fluffy French she is spouting.

The resourceful showgirl ends up staying in the embassy for several days, wearing the same dress. Elsie is clueless with French but does understand German. That gives her an essential, if inadvertent role to play in the avoidance of a World War, the reconciliation of a royal family, and the softening of the Regent’s chilly heart.


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.


Every Monroe picture generated gossip. The word on The Prince and the Showgirl was that Laurence and Marilyn didn’t get along, she was intolerably late, etc, – the same old stories, even on a film for her own production company. I’d bet that Olivier blocked things out and took care of the acting direction, while leaving the actual running of the set to his close friend Anthony Bushell, an actor/director billed as both associate director and associate producer.  *

The Prince and the Showgirl stays light overall. It has its touching moments but never shakes us up with deep emotions. If something transcendant 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.



It’s not every day that another Marilyn Monroe picture is revitalized.

The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of The Prince and the Showgirl is a knockout — we can see why a certain WB executive is so proud of it. As I said up top, it always looked pretty blah in TV prints, which can’t have done its reputation any good. This digital restoration makes it into a brightly colored box of candies. The picture is so sharp and Jack Cardiff’s lighting so good that even Richard Wattis’s face grabs our attention. Cardiff gives Marilyn Monroe what is probably her most artistic and delicate color lighting ever.

In 2001 I edited an Oscar tribute montage to Jack Cardiff, and had to sort through available videos of his films. I passed over The Prince and the Showgirl because the existing transfer was terrible. Now I’d have a hard time deciding which ‘wow’ shot to use.

This is also the first time we’ve seen the picture in its theatrical 1:85 aspect ratio. Composed properly, with the ‘vulgar’ colors of the Embassy interior so perfectly registered, the movie is twice what it seemed before. There’s a lot to this show we hadn’t noticed, including some very slick camera tricks. In the first scene, a rear projection view seen through a window is a Pan. If the taking camera were a pan the shot would look ridiculous, as if the entire building were pivoting. But the camera trucks in sync in the opposite direction, a clever trick that perfects the illusion.

We notice that in the Embassy set, there is always an awareness of the time of day. Backstage at the music hall, the slightly overdone theatrical makeup on the actors helps to sell the idea that the year is 1911. A few seconds later, we’re surprised to see that a long shot of a car arriving at the Embassy is a miniature, perfectly matched. Incredible. There are also quite a few matte paintings. The best illusions are for a parade right through Piccadilly Square — entire crowds are painted. We notice that shots in a dim church interior are undercranked to get enough light for an exposure, which speeds up the motion — look at the orchestra conductor!

The included theatrical trailer reveals how grainy Prince and the Showgirl used to look, with weak contrast and limp color. All the more to appreciate the new digital restoration. I assume that digital re-compositing is a key part of many of these excellent remasters. The Warner Archive Collection’s restoration campaign has made a lot of movie fans very happy.

These grabs from the web don’t do justice to the fine images on the WAC disc.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Prince and the Showgirl
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good but Stunning in restored color
Video: Excellent +
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)

Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
March 23, 2023

*  Primarily an actor, Anthony Bushell is easy to spot, often in military roles. His career goes back to the silents. He’s the handsome male lead in Boris Karloff’s first English film, The Ghoul  and he appeared to good effect in A Night to Remember,  Pursuit of the Graf Spee  and  The Purple Plain.  Among his solo directing work is the Hammer horror film  Terror of the Tongs  starring Christopher Lee.


Final product for this review was provided free by The Warner Archive Collection.
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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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