One of my bridge partners, now deceased, was married to Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatrist. One evening he took her out for her birthday dinner, and who showed up but Marilyn herself. His birthday present to her was dinner with Marilyn. All those years later she glowed as she told me of that night. She said Marilyn couldn’t have been sweeter or more attentive, as if my friend were the only person in the world who mattered.
Marilyn Monroe remains an enigma to this day. She was a star in a world that didn’t contain Oprah or all the other talk shows that strip a celebrity naked emotionally, so that the world knows everything there is to know and then some.
The filming of The Prince and the Showgirl (1956) is legendary for the relationship between Marilyn (Michelle Williams) and her co-star Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). According to the legend, Marilyn was difficult, constantly late, and she drove Olivier nuts.
This film is based on the autobiographical memoir of the same name by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), which followed his first, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me, and recounted his experiences working as third assistant director on the film. But one week was missing. A few years later he came out with the titular memoir that explained why that week was missing, and that’s this film.
Director Simon Curtis clearly knows about pace. There’s not a second that drags. And he gets the most out of his cast. Michelle Williams gives an award-quality performance as Marilyn. She not only looks and moves like Marilyn, she acts like her and she captures her insecurities, but also her presence as a star and how she used it.
Branagh is charming as the exasperated Olivier. I remember the film well because it’s one of my favorites, and even though Branagh doesn’t look a thing like Olivier, he sounds exactly like him.
The color photography (Ben Smithard) is beautiful, especially in catching Marilyn’s ripe red lips.
Redmayne gives a scintillating performance as the young man infatuated with a gorgeous movie star. Because the relationship is romantic but platonic, it takes a lot of skillful acting by both Redmayne and Williams to capture its sweetness.
The script (Adrian Hodges) is very good, even if it does steal a Goldwynism (“The most important thing in acting is honesty … And once you learn to fake that, you’re in.”) and puts it on Olivier’s lips.
There’s a reason why there has only been one silent film made since the 1930s. And that reason is that they are excruciating to sit through. They are passé and their appeal is strictly esoteric.
This is a story about a silent film star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who looks like John Gilbert, circa 1927-31, whose career is undone by the talkies. When he’s still on top he gives a young dancer, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a break and she becomes a star, effortlessly making the conversion from silent to talky.
That’s about it. She likes him and mourns his descent from stardom and does what she can to help him. But the film is far too long to not hear any dialogue. Even though it’s done well technically and the acting is very good, it’s just tedious to sit through. The only silent films I can sit through are Laurel & Hardy two-reelers, which are generally less than 25 minutes.
The film has lots of nostalgic old Los Angeles locations, including Mary Pickford’s house across the street from my house where I grew up. These are lovingly captured by DP Guillaume Schiffman, which is unusual, to say the least, since most of the filmmakers are French, including director Michael Hazanavicius, whose previous efforts were spy spoofs.
Both Dujardin and Bejo give fine performances, as do the rest of the cast. The acting isn’t campy; it’s as realistic as a silent movie can be.
If silent, black and white films were something lots of people wanted to see, they’d still be making them. They aren’t because most people don’t.