A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Entertainer (Tony Richardson, 1960)

Sleazy old Archie Rice was one of Laurence Olivier's theatrical triumphs, proof that a renowned classical actor, known for his Hamlet and Oedipus and Coriolanus, could take on the "kitchen-sink realism" of an Angry Young Man, John Osborne, and add glory to his already celebrated name. But the film version is an example of the difficulties that have to be overcome when a play is translated into a movie. For even though Tony Richardson, who directed the 1957 Royal Court Theatre version, also directed the film, and the play's author did the screenplay as well (in collaboration with Nigel Kneale), the movie lacks energy and direction. The play alternates between what's going on in Archie Rice's house and his performances on stage, while the film "opens up" to show the English seaside resort town where Archie's music-hall is located, and some of the events that are merely narrated in the play, such as Archie's affair with a young woman whose family he tries to persuade to back him in a new show, are dramatized in the movie. Olivier's creation of the "dead behind the eyes" Archie is superb, and his music-hall turns in the film manage to suggest that even though he was a hack as a performer Archie could have held an audience's attention, though it's clear that seeing Olivier on an actual stage would have had a stronger impact from sheer immediacy. The cast is uniformly fine: Brenda de Banzie as Archie's second wife, Roger Livesey as his father (Livesey was in fact only a year older than Olivier), Joan Plowright as his daughter, and making their film debuts, Alan Bates and Albert Finney as his sons. But in the end it's a collection of impressive performances in service of a not very involving story of a self-destructive man and his dysfunctional family.