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Archie Rice, a pathetic music hall comic, plagued by debts, manipulates those around him in a defiant and selfish attempt to survive against improbable odds. He drinks, makes crude philosophical jokes about sex and politics and humiliates his lamenting, gin-soaked wife. Archie lures his father, Billy Rice, out of retirement for a benefit performance which will ultimately bring financial aid to Archie and his impractical investments. Written by
Laurence Olivier is "The Entertainer," in a 1960 film based on the John Osborne play in which Olivier played one of his greatest roles, Archie Rice. He's surrounded by Joan Plowright as Archie's daughter Jean, and Brenda de Banzie as his emotionally fragile second wife, Phoebe. Olivier, Plowwright and de Banzie all repeat their stage roles, and it was while in the play that Olivier and Plowright met, fell in love, married, and stayed together until his death. Albert Finney is Mick and Alan Bates is Frank, Archie's sons, and Roger Livesey is Billy Rice, Archie's father and a beloved, well remembered music hall performer. Daniel Massey plays the role of Graham. It's an auspicious cast of veterans and newcomers.
Archie has followed in his father's footsteps with a lot less success. He's a second-rate entertainer - and that's being kind - in a seaside resort - and his show is in trouble. Archie's in trouble, too, as he's an undischarged bankruptcy and everything is in his wife's name. He's a fairly overt womanizer, which makes his wife a wreck. She's afraid of dying alone and wants the family to move to Canada and join a successful relative in the hotel business. But Archie won't give up following every dream in spite of some harsh realities. He takes up with a 20-year-old second prize beauty contestant - her father's rich and can back his new show.
As I read through the reviews on IMDb, I have to wonder where some people's hearts are. That's not a comment on the people, believe me, rather on the world we live in. I can tell you this - if you think what Olivier does isn't special and can't understand why he was nominated for an Oscar, if you can't see that he is Everyman, if you can't see the comment on Britain in general - you just haven't lived enough yet. You'll see this film again one day and it'll hurt, believe me. There can't be anyone my age, especially with ambition and a creative mind, who can't understand what Archie Rice is going through. Though he's in no way a sympathetic character, one can empathize with his life and begrudgingly admire the fact that he refuses to take the easy way out.
Jean, since she doesn't live full time with this bad road company version of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" - i.e., her family - is sympathetic to both Phoebe's hysteria and her father's delusions. The scene over the cake - one of the reviewers on the board found it disturbingly realistic - there's someone who knows dysfunction when he sees it. A brilliant scene, but nothing beats Archie's monologue to his daughter when he asks her to look at his eyes. "I'm dead," he says.
Olivier has said this is his favorite character as it contains so much of him. It's obvious from interviews with Olivier that it does. Like many highly successful people, he began to see himself as Archie, a kind of fake who, as Archie says, can be warm and smiling and feel nothing. "It's all tricks," Olivier told writer Jack Kroll once. It's not an uncommon feeling. It wasn't all tricks, of course, and as we see in Archie's final version of the song that ran through the film, "Why Should I Care?" he had finally reached the part of himself that makes a truly great artist, like the woman he heard sing the spiritual. Olivier, of course, hit those heights many times.
England is pronounced as a "dying country" in the beginning of the film, which sets up the metaphor of Archie as a symbol of the country. I'm not British - it's for those who lived during that time period in 1960 to comment on it, and they have. There are some brilliant reviews on the board covering that subject.
"Why Should I Care?" Archie sings. I don't have an answer. But if anyone could make me care, it was always Lord Laurence Olivier, be he the ruined man in "Carrie," the beautiful Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights," James Tyrone on stage in "Long Day's Journey," or Max de Winter in "Rebecca." An amazing legacy, one in a million - don't miss him as Archie Rice in "The Entertainer."
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