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UK 1960
Directed by
Tony Richardson
100 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Laurence Olivier recreates his stage role of Archie Rice in Tony Richardson’s adaptation of John Osborne's  play about the dying days of English music hall. Richardson had already filmed Osborne’s most famous play, Look Back In Anger, the previous year, the pair having formed Woodfall films which would responsible for  many major “kitchen sink” British films of the early 1960s.

The Entertainer is more an intriguing film than an attractive one largely because it captures the drab world of post-war British seaside working class culture so effectively and hence is all rather too sad to have a lot of appeal.  Olivier who received an Academy award nomination for Best Actor, but lost to Burt Lancaster for Elmer Gantry is brilliant as Archie Rice, a third-rate vaudevillian who has inherited the profession from his father (Roger Livesey).  An incorrigible womanizer and discharged bankrupt he is forever living in a fantasy world in which recognition is just around the corner although the reality is that he is on his druthers and going from bad to worse.

Osborne piles the moral commentary on thick with on the one hand Archie a symbol of England’s pathetic irrelevancy in the post-war era and on the other explicitly referring to Britain’s bungling in Suez at the time. It is a rather overwrought affair with Brenda de Banzie particularly shrill as Archie’s wife, driven to drink by his endless womanizing.  Joan Plowright, who married Olivier shortly after completing the film, plays Archie's daughter whilst Alan Bates and Albert Finney make their screen debuts in small roles. Richardson starts the film with a lot of intrusive diagonal framing before settling into a more conventional naturalistic style and giving us, at least for those who care for such things, now-fascinating location photography of Morecambe on the Irish Sea coast of northwest England with its crummy seaside entertainments.

Possibly it only for those who understand the world which it depicts, but for them The Entertainer will be a ghastly treat.

FYI: The Entertainer was remade for television in 1976, with Jack Lemmon as Archie Rice and original songs by Marvin Hamlisch




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