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
That little song that Laurence Olivier sings through out The Entertainer as part of his musical hall act really does sum up his philosophy of life.
Outside of the classics this is Olivier's greatest role and some would not even put that qualifier on his performance. Olivier retained great affection for his role as Archie Rice. He said it contained more of the real him than any other role.
That's hard to believe because what Archie Rice is is a third rate song and dance man. His father played by Roger Livesey was a great performer back in the day. But Archie never has and never will make it to the top. Think Frank Sinatra and Frank Sinatra, Jr. and you get some idea.
He's more like Willy Loman in that he's facing his midlife crisis, knowing full well he's not really accomplished all that much. Still he plods on. Unlike Willy the luckless middle-aged salesman, Archie's full of tricks. His credit is all gone, and he's planning to woo and win a young beauty who's an airhead like her mom with the object of getting their backing for a new show. He's ready to throw over wife Brenda DaBanzie without a by your leave.
The only one who Olivier has any kind of human feelings for is his daughter played by Joan Plowright. It was in the original cast of The Entertainer that Olivier first met the woman who became the third and last Mrs. Olivier. When he was made a peer in fact Joan became Lady Olivier.
In fact from the Broadway production, Olivier, Plowright and DaBanzie were the only ones from that cast who were in the film. But some rising young talent like Alan Bates, Albert Finney, and Daniel Massey all got some good first notice in The Entertainer playing Olivier's two sons and Plowright's fiancé.
The Entertainer is a downer of a film. There ain't a middle aged man who doesn't know what Archie is going through. But our sympathies are never with him. Usually that would mean one big box office flop if the audience can't sympathize or empathize. But it's Olivier's skill as a player that makes us want to see what does become of Archie.
It's an ending, but in a very minor key. Well deserved I thought.
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