"Why should I care,
Why should I let it touch me?
Why shouldn't I sit down and try to let it pass over me.
Why should they stare, why should I let it get me...
What's the use of despair if they call you a square?
You're a long time dead like my old pal Fred
So why oh why should I
Bother to care?"
Archie Rice sings this depressing and cynical second-rate song as part of his depressingly bad music hall routine in The Entertainer, a depressing but skillfully acted movie. Archie Rice (Lawrence Olivier) is a third-rate, aging vaudeville entertainer, headlining his own show in the run-down English seaside resort of Morecomb. He's just about at the end of his string, playing to half-empty, bored audiences, running up debt, and desperate to stay in the business. He has a wife, Phoebe (Brenda De Banzie) who loves him and drinks too much, a daughter, Jean (Joan Plowright), who also loves him but has no illusions about him, two sons, Mick (Albert Finney), who joined the Army and is being shipped off to Suez, and Frank (Alan Bates), who works for his father in the music hall, and his own father, Billy Rice (Roger Livesey), once a headliner but now aging and retired. In the course of the movie Archie one way or another uses them, fails them or both.
The Entertainer is grim stuff. It's redeemed, I think, by two elements. First, it represents the reaction in the Fifties by British playwrights such as John Osborne to the polished, upper-class and unrealistic theater in Britain following WWII. Playwrights such as Christopher Fry and Terrence Rattigan produced hugely popular works that many thought were out of touch with reality. Then Osborne and others came along with what critics called the kitchen sink school...slices of working life, puncturing British pretensions of class and power. Watched in this context, the movie brings a lot to the table.
The second element is the acting. Olivier was the epitome of polished British theater. When he agreed to play The Entertainer on stage he instantly legitimized the style and he thoroughly revamped his own reputation. Archie Rice is a third-rate singer, dancer and comedian. "Well, you're a lovely lot tonight," he says during his act, "a lovely lot tonight. I've played in front of them all, you know...The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales...and, oh, what's the name of that other pub?" Privately, he confesses to his daughter that "I never solved a problem in my life." Olivier, who could sing and dance very well when needed, is awful and perfect. In a rare moment of honesty, Rice points out to his daughter that he is dead behind his eyes. Olivier captures that flat moment. He also has a whole troupe of excellent actors backing him up, from such experienced hands as Roger Livesey and Brenda De Banzie, to two actors making their screen debuts, Alan Bates and Albert Finney. Joan Plowright, like Olivier reprising her stage role, is excellent as his daughter...loving him and pitying him probably too much.
As something of an historical artifact of British drama and as a source of pleasure in watching skilled actors earn their money, I think The Entertainer is well worth viewing. For many of us, it's worth purchasing.
There are no extras. The DVD picture looks just fine.