Jan. 21, 2006

The Entertainer (1960)
Grade: 74/100

Director: Tony Richardson
Stars: Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright, Alan Bates

What it's about. Set in England during the late 1950s. Washed-up song and dance man Archie Rice (Laurence Olivier) struggles and schemes to stay out of prison for writing bad checks. His bittersweet family consists of gracious daughter Jean (Joan Plowright), sons Frank (Alan Bates) and Mick (Albert Finney), grandfather Billy (Roger Livesey) and pathetic common-law wife Phoebe (Brenda De Banzie).

How others will see it. Classic film followers will be interested to see Albert Finney, Alan Bates, and Joan Plowright so early in their careers. If they know that Olivier would marry Plowright the next year (1961), they should understand the irony of his line to her, "What would you say to a man of my age marrying a girl about your age?"

It's a British film, and it's black and white. This makes it less accessible to a 'modern' audience, who wouldn't know Laurence Olivier from Olivia de Havilland. One suspects this significant audience would rather watch "X-Men 3" or the like.

How I felt about it. Deep down inside, Archie doubts he can pull it off. Expectations diminished long ago. But he keeps on, and hopes rise with the next contact. If that fails, there's always another glass of draft bass. He won't take a plum opportunity running a hotel in Canada, not just because he's proud and stubborn, but he's addicted to show-biz. He'll struggle and starve for another moment in the spotlight.

Archie should know better than to fool his family. They know he's broke, untalented, an alcoholic, and unfaithful. But he can't resist another opportunity to put one over on pageant contestant Tina (Shirley Anne Field), to get at her parent's money to put on a show. His mistake is believing he can marry her, and admitting this to Jean.

Although aware of his flaws, Jean and Frank still cherish their father, and try to help him. Certainly, he needs all the help he can get. Hard work isn't enough when you are a stage performer with no talent. Archie's father Billy is more scornful, but is willing to pitch in when the chips are down. Bully for him.

Middle-aged Phoebe is a basket case of emotions, while Jean is half her age but fully mature. This shows that even in a film as good as The Entertainer, the stereotype of an older woman as mentally fragile is reinforced.

What would have happened if Billy hadn't cut short Archie's investment in Tina? There would have been a Winter Garden show, but it would have slowly deflated, along with his relationship with Tina and her family. Billy actually does Archie a favor. He can go to Canada while the opportunity is still open. He's all washed up in show-biz.