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
John Osborne wrote his play "The Entertainer" specifically at the request of Laurence Olivier, who wanted the Angry Young Man of the British theater to create a vehicle for him, one of the figures of the British Establishment that Osborne was rebelling against. Olivier hoped that appearing in the Osborne play would make him relevant to a new generation of theater goers. It proved to be one of Olivier's greatest stage successes (The Colonial Theatre in Boston has a plaque on the outside wall commemorating Olivier's appearance there during the US tour of the play), while the film adapted from the play won him the sixth of his ten acting Academy Award nominations. His performance as Archie Rice, as well as his marriage to his young co-star Joan Plowright, one of the leading actresses of the new wave of British thespians, did keep Olivier contemporary with the new leaders of the British theater. Conversely, Olivier's generational contemporaries, including the actors John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson and the playwright Terence Rattigan, would become to seem stout and old-fashioned as they failed to keep up with the theatrical evolution. (Gielgud would counter with the role of Julian in Edward Albee's obscure "Tiny Alice" on Broadway in 1962, but outside of the classical repertoire, he and Richardson did not recover their cachet as actors in contemporary plays until the mid-1970s, in Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land".) Olivier would help shepherd the new generation of actors, directors and playwrights as the head of the National Theatre in the 1960s and early '70s. See more »
Cheer up love, life isn't as bad as all that, and even if it is, there's nothing we can do about it.
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It is amazing to me how many critics and reviewers of this film seem to have missed the subtleties in this story, and in Archie's character. Far from living in a world of futile fantasies, I think, Archie's character is much more accurately expressed by the line "The only thing I know how to do is to keep on keeping on." All available options (Canada, failure, escape, or perhaps, suicide) being unthinkable, what choice has he but to chase another hopeless dream of somehow, finally, nailing a successful show? Perhaps I identify with Archie more strongly than many viewers, having myself been at the helm of a sinking ship (a business.)
One unreasonably scathing critic (did he actually watch this film??) commented on Archie's daughter, Joan's, "blind love" for her father. I think it was not "blind love" at all, but a recognition of the (probably useless) courage Archie has to muster to continue to face each day -- a day likely to hold for him only more demoralizing failure and unceasing accusation and blame. And far from being totally selfish, as some commentators have written, Archie really seems to be the only person in the family able to look beyond the extremely small focus on their own interests: he is, in fact, the only person in the Rice tribe making a real effort, despite the pain, to find a path out of the mess to a place of security for them all.
Perhaps we have forgotten how dependent families were in that era on the earnings of "the breadwinner," and yet, reviewers seem to have been just as blind as many wives and families of that time to what a man often had to give up in order to be that breadwinner, including, as in Archie's case, any fantasies of greatness or even, finally, his last shreds of self-esteem. Was Archie aware of his utter failure? Oh, I think absolutely so. This is why his admission to his daughter that he was "dead" behind his eyes. All the brightness of hope or illusions of personal excellence have been hammered out of him on the iron-cold anvil of real-world failure. Even so, he found it in him to dredge up the understanding and compassion to alleviate his wife, Phoebe's drunken crash into despair and hostility; and shore up his father's nostalgic dreams. Though, alas, the latter, too, led to yet another "unforgiveable" tragedy (-- or was it?.
The most exquisite and poignant tragedy of it all is that maybe, just maybe, Archie might have pulled it off, but for the failure of his clueless family to understand him or the grim realities of his doomed profession. Forget metaphors of Imperial England, this tale has surely played itself out millions of times, whenever a new technology has made an old craft obsolete -- as when the printing press replaced scribes, or when electric lights eliminated the town's lamp lighter, or when automated projectors replaced skilled projectionists. Many of the movie's reviewers, in my opinion, are as blind to what is really going on here as is Archie's family. They assume that Archie's failures are the result of his negligence and selfishness, and that his dalliance with the beauty queen is a real romance (and threat to their security), when, in his eyes, it is just another, necessary, desperate and ultimately demeaning business deal. Joan alone, it seems, finally understands -- far too late to avert the inevitable end. Ultimately, every family member's myopic conception of Archie's reality leads them to take the reflexive steps that seal his doom.
Shakespeare would have been completely a home with this tragic tale, and I think it was not such a great leap away from Hamlet for Olivier.
The story is richly-detailed, unexpected and though-provoking. And Olivier is superb. A stunning performance from beginning to tragically inevitable end.
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