on 10 August 2008
Laurence Olivier stars as a sleazy, third-rate music hall performer in 1960's "The Entertainer", one of the first and best films of the so called Free Cinema movement, and a movie that is somewhat neglected today (it should be better known). Based on a play by John Osborne, Olivier plays Archie Rice, a mediocre performer in grim seaside town theaters. His shows attract few people (early in the film, we see passersby sneering at the theater marquee that falsely advertises Archie as a television comedian). His father, Billy, was once a talented and successful comedian, but now he is just a cranky old man living with him and Archie's wife, the unstable Phoebe. Archie has three grown children, played respectively by Alan Bates, Albert Finney and Joan Plowright, all very early in their careers. Jean (Plowright, who would become Olivier's wife soon after this film) comes to home from London and sees her family unraveling: one of her brothers have been sent to Suez, her stepmother is becoming more and more unstable, Archie is hounded by his creditors while he imprudently starts a romance with a beauty contestant, with the hope of obtaining financing for his shows from her rich parents. Archie's life goes downhill from here, so the film is quite bleak, but it is very well done (and especially, performed). Some critics see Archie as a metaphor of postwar England, and this may indeed have been Osborne's intention, but the film plays better as a character study of a very flawed man.
"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.
on 18 May 2012
77uk The Entertainer by Tony Richardson (1960, 96')
As some people, typically those disagreeing with my views (like on Taxi Driver or the Graduate), have earlier complained that I quote other reviews (easy job, they say) and that I do not delimit my quotations clearly (cheat, they mean), I am trying to here be ultra lucid. Let me further reiterate another point: Not all film reviews have exactly the same objective. (i) For a film like today's, hundreds of reviews exist. So do not expect a detailed plot summary (get it elsewhere in the net); (ii) I write because I think my point, viz how well the film - part of the British New Wave - has lasted its fifty years may interest some readers.
>>>>The Entertainer is a 1960 drama film directed by Tony Richardson, based on the stage play of the same name by John Osborne. It starred Laurence Olivier as a failing third-rate music hall stage performer who tries to keep his career going even as his personal life falls apart. The story is set against the backdrop of the dying music hall tradition, and this has usually been seen as symbolic of Britain's general "post-war decline": loss of Empire, power and cultural confidence and identity.<<<< end quote Wikipedia.
Screenplay work is vital input, with Top British Playwrights of the Sixties like John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Joe Orton, Peter Shaffer, Tom Stoppard, David Storey. Novels and short stories that were adopted came from Stan Barstow, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe and others. The films were termed British New Wave or Free Cinema.
Notable films: Look Back in Anger (1959), Room at the Top (1959), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Hell Is a City (1960), The Entertainer (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), A Kind of Loving (1962), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Billy Liar (1963), This Sporting Life (1963), Tom Jones (1963) A Hard Day's Night (1964), The Knack ...and How to Get It (1965), Kes (1969), "If...." (1968).
Notable directors: Lindsay Anderson, John Boorman, Jack Clayton, Basil Dearden, Clive Donner, Bryan Forbes, Richard Lester, Ken Loach, Joseph Losey, Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, Nicholas Roeg, Ken Russell, John Schlesinger, Peter Watkins, Peter Yates.
Notable actors: Alan Bates, Tom Bell (actor), Dirk Bogarde, Richard Burton, Julie Christie, Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Malcolm McDowell, Oliver Reed, Rita Tushingham.
When asked about realism in an interview of his dvd version of The Pianist (2000), Roman Polanski made the major point that he could not make a film (rather than a documentary) about history without telling a story. The point, in its unmistakable clarity and implication, could have been made by Bert Brecht, the great German playwright of the twenties and beyond, himself a great realist. What fascinates us about Osborne/Richardson's Archie Rice is exactly this understanding of realism about the decline of post war Britain, as illustrated by one family's story.
The Entertainer as a movie (1960) is part of the New British Wave, on which I have given a few who-is-who quotes above for further reference and orientation, some of which were already given elsewhere and will continue to be used in future when relevant. The British New Wave peaked slightly earlier and was over much sooner than the French Nouvelle Vague, and on the whole was less playful and innovative, more social and class aware - hence, apart from calling it Angry young men, the near-parallel use of the term Kitchen sink realism.
But the New Wave has produced some of the best movies ever to come out of Britain (I am deliberately excluding the David Lean and likes' sand dune, exotic river and winter steppe epics). Though much of it is shot outside in English summer weather (sic), the interior scenes remain quite theatrical, well-carpented, but otherwise gray and drab - like in Room at the Top (1959) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). This is not airy, sunny Paris, nor high ceiling apartments with louvre windows, nor anything like the Provence or the Riviera; the Gulf Stream only reaches the Isles as a tangent.
Counter to most review practice, I am ending both giving a full list of cast and staff. In the lead, Laurence Olivier's performance nearly defies description, even deep at the shallowest end of a near self-parodic role. He never overdoes his acting, and always lets his partners play out rather than simply sketch their roles. Accordingly, there are no weak actors, and young Shirley Anne Field even plays better in Archie's arms than later in Albert Finney's in Saturday Night! Joan Plowright, who perhaps is the only one to see altruistically through and suffer from the fragility nobody is willing to repair - has a near tragic, delicate role for which she deserves a big hug. But then, they are all damn good!!!
Cast: Laurence Olivier (Baron Olivier) - Archie Rice, Brenda De Banzie - Phoebe Rice, Roger Livesey - Billy Rice, Joan Plowright (later Lady Olivier) - Jean Rice, Alan Bates - Frank Rice, Daniel Massey - Graham, Shirley Anne Field - Tina Lapford, Thora Hird - Mrs Lapford, Albert Finney - Mick Rice.
Production: Directed by Tony Richardson, Produced by Harry Saltzman, Screen-play by John Osborne, Nigel Kneale, based on the play by John Osborne, Music by John Addison, Cinematography by Oswald Morris, Editing by Alan Osbiston, Studio Woodfall Film Productions, Filmed on location in the Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe.
British New Wave or Free Cinema Internet references were use for Top British Playwrights, Novels and short story writers, Notable films, Notable directors, Notable actors.
77uk - 18/5/2012
I'm gonna come straight out with it. This DVD gets five stars from me. Here's a film that's largely fallen off the radar being offered for less than four quid. It just so happens to be one of my favourite movies. Sure, I'd love Criterion to get their hands on it as much as all you cinephiles out there, and if they ever do, this DVD will be dead to me. But until that day, I will continue to cherish this release.
So, yeah, you always know you're on to a bad thing when a DVD lists 'interactive menu' as its star billing. This menu only exists to allow you to select chapters; there is not one single extra to speak of. Where MGM really earns its stars, though, is the picture quality. In the age of high definition, this print more than held its own on my Blu-ray player. Likewise, the mono audio track is commendable. A bargain bin price doesn't equate to the usual bargain bin performance on this occasion.
Speaking of performances, Laurence Olivier gives one of his best, if least likely, here as Archie Rice, an allegory for Britain's fall from grace and loss of identity. Archie is a third-rate song and dance man who's seen better days. His loss is our gain as we watch him perform in Morecambe and get to witness some of that unmatchable, wonderful Sixties British seaside in the process. And The Entertainer is a very British affair with its routes in the theatre - and an incredibly accomplished supporting cast including a young Dame Thora Hird.
The coda of Archie singing 'Why Should I Care?' throughout the film takes on increasing poignancy with each reprisal before becoming his classic final act of defiance that only Olivier's performance as Hamlet can compete with.