The Entertainer

BBC Television showed the 1960 film of The Entertainer over the weekend. It's based on the play by John Osborne, about a seedy small-time music-hall performer running a tatty show in a small seaside town. Both on stage and in the film the lead character - Archie Rice - was played by Sir Laurence Olivier - a performance which had a sort of shock value as up to then he had largely been known for classic and romantic roles on stage and in films. The script includes part of Rice's act, and it is still intriguing to see Olivier standing on a music-hall stage and retailing dreadful jokes - and tap-dancing. (He was asked how he managed to tap-dance so badly: he said "I just did the best I could".)

Interestingly, a clip of film taken from a stage performance exists, showing him doing part of the music-hall act, and in this he is even better than in the feature film. His performance is a magnificent combination of pathos and seediness.

Seen forty-seven years on, the film is intriguing for other reasons: it (or at least some of it) was shot in Morecambe, a well-known holiday resort in the North of England, and catches the period atmosphere of the sort of holiday which has largely been replaced by Ryanair flights to Ibiza - crowds on the beach and promenade, tatty sideshows, a Punch and Judy man, a funfair, and coffee bars with teenagerrs dancing to Rock and Roll.

The film's cast is impressive - more so now when many of the performers have become famous: in addition to Olivier the cast includes Roger Livesey, Joan Plowright (who Olivier married shortly afterwards), Daniel Massey, Shirley Anne Field, Thora Hird, Miram Karlin, Max Bacon and Charles Gray: and debut performances from two young unknowns - Albert Finney and Alan Bates.

The opening out from the stage version has worked well, particularly in catching the cheap seaside atmosphere: the scene where Rice hears about the death of his son seems a bit theatrical, but otherwise Olivier's performance is one of his best and quite apart from anything else the film is valuable for preserving it.

There is another famous and stunning Olivier performance which was preserved on film - Othello, made in 1965 as a record of the stage production, which was recreated unchanged in the studio. This film seems to have been unavailable for many years: it's time it was seen again.

Posted: Mon - May 21, 2007 at 12:25 PM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM