The Prince and the Showgirl (PAL) (1957)

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Released 1-Apr-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy Main Menu Audio
Listing-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Announcement Newsreel (0:40)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 1.0 (2:17)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1957
Running Time 112:02
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (42:43) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Laurence Olivier
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Marilyn Monroe
Laurence Olivier
Sybil Thorndike
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Richard Addinsell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
German
Spanish
Arabic
Romanian
Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Baron Laurence Olivier is generally recognised as one of the greatest actors of the last century, especially for his more serious and renowned work in the Shakespearean realm. Marilyn Monroe is generally recognised as the greatest sex symbol of the silver screen of the last century. It seems a bit weird today to contemplate their pairing in The Prince And The Showgirl, and that was certainly the initial thoughts regarding the casting of the film. It also seems a bit weird that Marilyn Monroe would choose this project to be the first that she would produce (through Marilyn Monroe Productions Inc), as it was a strong turn back towards the blonde bimbo-type roles that she had been trying to shrug off in her quest to be regarded as an actress rather than just a sex symbol. It seems rather weird too that arguably the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time would be cast as the male lead in a romantic comedy opposite the luminescent Marilyn Monroe. It hardly seemed his métier at all. The resultant film hardly set the box office alight and was, not unsurprisingly, rather panned by the critics it seems.

    Yet despite everything that seemed to be wrong about this film, today it proves to be rather more effective than those critics gave it credit for and is a charming and engaging piece of work. Sure, Laurence Olivier is not the greatest romantic lead ever and looks a bit out of his depth at times, but in a very strong way that is what makes his performance work so well. He is playing something of a playboyish character whose attraction to women and implied treatment of women has all the superficiality of a politician on the hustings. Opposite him is the sex symbol of the screen whose entire treatment on screen and in life in some respect has been at a superficial level, and yet here she turns that blonde bimbo persona to her advantage. It might not have seemed to be obvious but it certainly seems to have worked. That of course has been aided by a tremendous screenplay by Terrence Rattigan, whose play The Sleeping Prince the film is based upon. He infused the screenplay with some wry wit at times that suits the mix of the abilities of the two leads very well indeed, but more importantly made the role of the equerry Northbrook, played by Richard Wattis, the perfect centre for the swings of the film.

    Set in 1911 and centred around the coronation of King George V, The Prince is Grand Duke Charles of Carpathia (Laurence Olivier). He serves as Regent for his son Nicholas who shall reign in his own right when he attains the age of eighteen. The Showgirl is one Elsa Stoltzenberg, stage name Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe), so charmingly described as the third blonde from the left Gaiety Girl in a production of The Coconut Girl. The Prince is of course to attend the coronation as a representative of his adopted country, along with the Queen Dowager (Sybil Thorndike), but whilst there are official duties to attend to there are also pleasures to be indulged. One of those is attending a performance of The Coconut Girl, where the Prince is introduced to the cast backstage. He of course has eyes for all the women and ignores the men. And none catches his eye more than Elsie Marina. Whilst there are pressing problems in his adopted country, he seems more interested in arranging late suppers with attractive women and so Elsie finds herself with an invitation to the Carpathian Embassy with the assigned equerry of the Prince, Northbrook of the Foreign Office (Richard Wattis), as her guide and in some respects her willing mentor. What follows is a comedy of situations as Elsie, who has seen all the tricks before when it comes to men and their desires, comes to terms with her feelings for the rather unfeeling Regent and her interactions with the members of the Royal Family.

    Maybe it is a film that says more to the British than the Americans but it is nonetheless very interesting that the British reviews of the DVD seem to be more positive than the American reviews. In essence, the film boils down to being a take on the Cinderella story in many ways, but done in a British way. How does a stilted, pretentious political animal like the Prince come to terms with something as supposedly simple as love and this vivacious, at times supposedly vacuous American? Of course, the situational comedy that results is not the sort of stuff that Americans tend to go for, but for those that do this is a rather witty effort that will engage.

    By no means the best thing ever done by Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, but the passage of time has been very kind to the film. As an evocation of a simpler age of filmmaking, the results of this rather simple film are in many ways about as engaging as you could wish for. Truly, this is a film that you can enjoy. I had never seen it before buying the DVD and now having watched it for this review session, I can only say that I was stupid to never have caught it before. A simple piece of charming filmmaking that is way better than the critics ever gave it credit for.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This film has been modified as follows from its original version: it has been modified to fit your screen.

    Now there is an interesting statement. Aside from the fact that how the heck do Warner Home Video know what shape my screen is, has it really been modified? By all accounts the modified version of the transfer is the one shown at the cinema upon theatrical release. The film was apparently shot full aperture (meaning a 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio), but this was matted to 1.85:1 for the theatrical release. So, is what we have here modified? Whilst it certainly is Full Frame and not Pan and Scan (lucky for Warner Home Video there), it does not present what we would have seen at the cinema on its theatrical release. Personally, I am not happy but your view might well be different. The transfer is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    As the film credits started, I was plunged into despair almost by the sight - copious grain that really is rather ugly. Was this to be the look of the entire film? I feared the worst and cursed the fact that I had voluntarily bought the film sight unseen (before the review copy turned up in case you are wondering). But once the opening credits were mercifully gone, the transfer became a vastly different proposition. Of decent enough sharpness, the big notable here was how smooth and pleasant the transfer looked. Detail was very good, overall shadow detail was excellent and the transfer was a lot clearer than the opening credits indicated it would be. There was nothing in the way of low level noise and really the whole thing looks rather good. Hazarding a guess, some time has been expended in cleaning the source material up and it shows on the screen.

    One Region 1 review complains about the colours being a little weak. Whilst agreeing that they are not in the league of a modern film, I thought the colours came up very well all things considered. At times they were a little muted, but overall this is a nice palette of colours, generally decently saturated and looking rather natural. Skin tones are well handled and black levels were quite acceptable for the nature of the film. There was nothing in the way of oversaturation at all and colour bleed was not a problem. The only time that there is some disappointment is in some of the exterior scenes that we see through windows. They clearly indicate that they were achieved by matting and have a distinctly different look to the foreground, being less well defined in the tones and being less vibrant.

    Ignoring any issues that are likely to be from the source material, there did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. The sharpness of the transfer does mean that at times aliasing is fairly obvious, such as in the letter trays at 2:41, the steps at 19:17 and in the furniture at 47:59 amongst others. Rarely is this especially noticeable and distracting but certainly it is there. There is also some minor moiré artefacting in the tie at 4:21. Film artefacts were rather obviously present at times, although in general the transfer was quite clean. Mostly involving small specks, there are just a few larger hairs and film damage marks to be found at times. The only time I found the film artefacts annoying was one sequence during the ball towards the end of the film, where there is a concentration of specks that are difficult to ignore. You might also notice one or two bad edits during the film, where the image jumps a little (such as at 42:15).

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming during a black scene change at 42:43. You can tell where it is owing to a slight pause in the music but it really is not disruptive to the film at all.

    There are ten subtitle options on the DVD. The English efforts are decent enough but some of the dialogue has been chopped at times in order to keep the flow of the subtitles in line with the flow of the film. Nothing too annoying but nonetheless noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks on the DVD, all of which are Dolby Digital 1.0 efforts. The language choices are English, French and Italian. I of course stuck with the English soundtrack, although I briefly sampled the French and Italian dubs.

    There is basically not an awful lot wrong with the soundtrack and the dialogue comes up well and is very easy to understand, even when some of the dialogue is a bit stilted. There were just the odd hint of audio sync issues, such as at 19:43, when Laurence Olivier speaks - suggesting that perhaps the ADR was not the best.

    The original music score comes from Richard Addinsell. I thought it a quite engaging score that certainly was better than the sort of schmaltzy, banal score that can often be inflicted upon romantic comedies. In scenes such as during the coronation, suitable themes from other regal music are certainly incorporated well. All-in-all, I thought this did a great job of supporting the film.

    I was rather surprised by how effective the soundtrack was to the film. At the end of the film, I was almost marveling about the fact that this really did not sound that much like a one channel effort at all. Sure it lacks any sort of dynamic range, but it is rather present in the sound and the result is that the all-important dialogue is carried very well indeed. There is nothing much in the way of background blemish to the sound, although if you do turn up the volume you might well hear some hiss. The film did not need much more than what we have here and it is all perfectly adequate.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Not a whole heap of stuff here, despite the copious space available on the DVD. Just a listing of the cast? Give me a break - where are the full biographies, full filmographies, photos and so on?

Menu

   Am I the only one who finds there something a bit daft in having a Full Frame presentation for the feature but a widescreen presentation for the menus? Oh, there is some minor audio enhancement in the main menu.

Listing - Cast and Crew

   Just listings - nothing else?

Featurette - Announcement Newsreel (0:40)

   A typical example of the shortish news stories that we used to get at the cinema in the old days. In not too bad nick overall, with just a few film artefacts floating around and the sound being a little strident. The presentation is Full Frame, it is not 16x9 enhanced and the sound is Dolby Digital 2.0. This one features Jack L. Warner going goggle-eyed over Marilyn Monroe at the announcement of the film.

Theatrical Trailer (2:17)

   Pretty much your bog-standard two minute trailer, remarkable only for the fact that it appears to be in pretty fair condition all things considered. The blue credits suffer somewhat from slight oversaturation and plenty of colour bleed, but apart from that it is only the grain that really impinges upon the presentation. There is a bit of aliasing going on in the picture too. The presentation is Full Frame, it is not 16x9 enhanced and the sound is Dolby Digital 1.0, the latter being just a little distorted at times (notably towards the end of the trailer).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 2 release is the same as the Region 4, since the DVD is dual coded. The Region 1 release seems to only differ from the Region 4, barring language and subtitle options, in that the Cast and Crew section might actually be more text-based with details of the careers of the two main stars. It probably also comes in a snapper case. All things considered, I cannot see the point of heading to Region 1 or 2 as there is no substantive difference between the Regions and the price point is fairly reasonable in Region 4 anyway, at least when available in the discount department stores (mine cost under $17).

Summary

    Okay, I am a sucker for Marilyn Monroe so I am hardly likely to be the most unbiased reviewer around to do The Prince And The Showgirl. But in my opinion this is a very decent and quite amusing film that wears its years quite well. It never was one of the great classics, but it sure is an easy film to toss into the player for two hours of pure enjoyment. It does not take itself too seriously, has Laurence Olivier stepping out of his more serious demeanour and Marilyn Monroe lighting up the screen - what more could you want from a film? Probably not as bad as the critics said upon initial release, certainly not the best thing that the leads did in their careers, but with a degree of charm that is quite engaging.

    Please note that this review is of the PAL version of the film. I know that several sites have indications of an NTSC version of this film being available. I have not seen an NTSC version but that does not mean to say that Warner Home Video did not release this initially as an NTSC version before replacing it with the PAL version. (Ed. Indeed this appears to be exactly what happened).

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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