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ENTERTAINER, THE (director: Tony Richardson; screenwriters: from the play The Entertainer by John Osborne/John Osborne/Nigel Kneale; cinematographer: Oswald Morris; editor: Alan Osbigton; music: John Addison; cast: Laurence Olivier (Archie Rice), Brenda de Banzie (Phoebe Rice), Joan Plowright (Jean Rice), Roger Livesey (Billy Rice), Alan Bates (Frank Rice), Albert Finney (Mick Rice), Daniel Massey (Graham), Shirley Ann Field (Tina Lapford), Thora Hird (Ada Lapford), Geoffrey Toone (Harold Hubbard), Max Bacon (Charlie Klein); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Saltzman; British Lion Woodfall; 1960-UK)
“A stagebound tragi-comedy that remains limp despite Sir Laurence Olivier’s powerful performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A stagebound tragi-comedy that remains limp despite Sir Laurence Olivier’s powerful performance of a seedy, lecherous, egotistical, self-delusional, has-been seaside music hall vaudeville performer Archie Rice, a role Olivier re-creates from the one he played on the stage. Tony Richardson directs in a confident but inexperienced way (poor editing decisions!); it’s coscripted by John Osborne from his successful play. The film introduces Alan Bates, Albert Finney, and Joan Plowright. Despite their wide age difference, Plowright and the then 54-year-old Olivier married a year later and stayed together until his death in 1989. In the film, Plowright plays Olivier’s earnest art teacher daughter Jean, who is working in a slum school in London. She’s the only likable character in the film, and seemed to be around mainly to pick up the body parts of those dying all around her and deflect with her warmth the family’s deceit as it’s bitterly unmasked.

The film was shot at London’s Shepperton Studios and on location. But it still felt too theatrical despite the many outside location shots.

Olivier shuns his usual Shakespearean or classy period romance roles to play this undignified part with the nattiness it deserves. The kitchen sink melodrama is an indictment of the 1950s malaise and the politicos inability to bring peace and prosperity to Great Britain.

Third-rate vaudeville performer Archie Rice is being hounded by his creditors, his resort seaside show is drawing small and unenthusiastic crowds, and he can’t pay the other performers. After twenty years in showbiz the charming womanizer is in deep trouble wherever he turns. The taxman wants to see him about some nasty tax business; his second wife Phoebe (Brenda de Banzie) is an alcoholic, lousy lay and complaining bitch given to offering long speeches; his retired showbiz legend dad Billy (Roger Livesey) has contempt for him and goes into raves like a doddering fool (Livesey plays his Colonel Blimp role again!), his rational son Frank (Alan Bates) has little talent or courage but still wants to be in showbiz like his dad; and, the other son Mick (Albert Finney) is a paratrooper sergeant who has been sent to fight the Egyptians at the Suez, where he has been taken prisoner. Later we learn he has been killed, as his story makes newspaper headlines.

Jean comes up from London to pay a surprise visit to the family. She has left her ambitious corporation-employed boyfriend Graham dangling after he asked her to marry him and live with him in Africa, where his firm wants to transfer him. He sees the transfer as an opportunity to advance quickly up the corporate ladder. At home, Jean and her step-mother Phoebe are overwhelmed by the male family members. Archie can never face reality and that he is a failure; his selfishness has put a damper on his family. He makes every night into a drinking party either at home or with his mates in the local pub, doing everything he can to avoid looking at himself in the mirror. This glum melodrama gives the flawed Archie no chance to gain redemption, as whatever he does is only for himself and to the detriment of his family. Despite this, Jean shows a blind love for her father and tries to comfort him. Things get a bit messy when the middle-aged Archie courts a twenty-year-old second-place winner, Tina Lapford (Shirley Ann Field), in a beach beauty contest, and convinces her banker father to bankroll a show he wants to put on in London. It all falls apart when Billy gets wind of his son’s plans to divorce Phoebe to marry Tina, and he puts an end to things by confiding in Mrs. Lapford. Billy then gets a backer for the show if he stars in it, as Archie has it rubbed in his face that his dad has gained more respect in showbiz circles for his talent than he ever has.

There are too many tirades thrown, too many long-winded glum speeches, too sentimental of an outlook on showbiz, and it’s far too talky, yet interspersed are some damning moments that have a zing to it. That most of the film is not entertaining and it never quite makes it as good cinema is too bad considering how it seems to accurately capture a post-WWII England in a depressing mood and in a state of vegetation.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”