February 24, 2005

Destiny! Destiny! That's For Me!


This morning I was reading the Colossus' post on Dubya's trip to Slovakia which included a nifty clickable map (I love maps) featuring the Carpathian Mountains.

This afternoon someone googled here on "wayne's world happy birthday mr president".

What is the connection? Well you may ask - it's a movie I like called The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Olivier plays the Prince Regent of a Balkan state called Carpathia, in London in 1911 for the coronation of George V. Monroe plays Elsie Marina, an American dancer on the London stage. The Prince originally spots Elsie as an easy one-night stand, but eventually falls for her purity of spirit, innocence and pluckiness. Yes, it actually is as awful as it sounds. The first half of the movie is hilarious, but the plot eventually descends into a welter of sentimental mush.

I say I like the film, but what I really mean is that I like Olivier in it. He plays the Prince with an over-the-top Eastern European accent and Grand Ducal mannerisms of which he ought to be thoroughly ashamed. His line, "So amusink, how you vill laugh," delivered with distainful reserve, long ago entered the family lexicon. (My mother specializes in imitating Sybil Thorndike, who plays the goofy Dowager Queen, in her line, "Is that Champagne I see over there? I desire a glass.")

Then there is Monroe, someone whose appeal I have never understood. (In his autobiography, Olivier recounts what a pain in the backside she was to work with and relates a couple of very humorous - and telling - anecdotes about her.) In the film, she utters what is surely one of the silliest lines in all of cinematic history:

You see, the major subplot of the piece is all of the pre-WWI political maneuvering in Europe. The Carpathians are all important to everybody because their country is a lynch-pin in the balance of power. (While the minor king is pro-British, Olivier's Prince Regent is pro-German.) At one point, the Prince interrupts his private dinner with Elsie to take a telephone call from one of his spies. He notes that the Americans are likely to object to some particular piece of diplomatic skulduggery they are hatching and then begins to laugh and joke about how naive and idealistic Americans are.

Elsie is in the background all this time, temporarily ignored. As she hears the Prince making light of her homeland and people, she gets a defiant look in her eye, drops her jaw poutingly, hoists a glass of Champagne and whispers those thrilling, patriotic and immemorable words, "God bless President Taft!"

Well, maybe you have to be there. But we never cease to howl when those words leave Marilyn's lips.

UPDATE: Mom drops me a note to the effect that the correct Monroe pronunciation of "president" here is "pa-res-iden". She also says that it is more accurate to say that Monroe mouthed her line, rayther than whispering it. My bad. To quote the thankless production assistant who was cross-examined by an enraged Marilyn as to whether the stagehands had got a glimpse of her knockers when she suffered a "wardrobe malfunction" during shooting of one of the scenes in the movie, "They were watching Mr. Olivier."

Posted by Robert at February 24, 2005 03:37 PM

I love Marilyn. What I love about her is that the powers-that-be kept trying to make her into a joke, a lascivious joke (7 Year Itch is a perfect example) - but somehow, without being strident (EVER) she resisted being made fun of - and the audience was completely on her side. The studio heads might have snickered about her behind her back, but the audience fell in love with her. A weird thing ...

The audience loved her, unabashedly, and felt weirdly protective towards her.

To me, that is why she is so appealing. Or one of the reasons.

Also how funny she is.

Probably a matter of personal taste, but she's always been one of my favorites.

Posted by: red at February 24, 2005 04:09 PM

I know you're not the only one who feels that way. I've tried, but I simply don't get it. Like you say - personal taste.

Posted by: Robert the LB at February 24, 2005 04:11 PM

Have you never seen "Some Like It Hot," Robbo? Or "How To Marry a Millionaire?" (Which is a favorite of mine because of Lauren Bacall, but Marilyn was just as good in it. The whole glasses schtick is particularly brilliant.)

She was the dumb blonde in both those roles, but you loved her all the more for it because she didn't try to be anything more. They say it takes a particularly smart person to play a very dumb one, so, I wonder, who had the last laugh here?

Posted by: Kathy at February 24, 2005 07:05 PM
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