THE ENTERTAINER (1960)


An example of the “angry young man” films, movies (and plays) made in the late fifties and sixties that focused on discontent among Britain’s working class and the political situations of the day with an approach that was far more “kitchen sink” (i.e. realistic) in its approach than of theaters past. The theater of angry men was in many ways a response to the more genteel and middle brow approach of such previous writers as Terrance Rattigan and Somerset Maughm, both of whom were in many ways angry young men of their days, but were finding their style to be a bit dated. The Entertainer is a story about a song and dance hall singer/actor who isn’t even good enough to be second rate. According to playwright Arthur Miller, he had gone to London to accompany his wife Marilyn Monroe as she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl, co-starring and directed by Lawrence Olivier (that’s for those of you who have seen the recent movie My Week With Marilyn). Olivier took Miller to see a Somerset Maughm farce with Vivien Leigh. When Olivier asked what Miller thought of it, he was dismissive, not realizing Olivier had directed it. When Olivier asked him what he wanted to see, Miller said that John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger had an interesting title. Olivier was as dismissive as Miller had been about his show, but they went. Afterwards, Olivier asked Osborne to write a play for him and thus we got The Entertainer. With this moment, Olivier, who was beginning to be identified with the dusty theater of yore, aligned himself with the new generation and by doing so invigorated his career and gave himself validity in the eyes of a younger audience (and in turn gave validity to the rising new turks). In many ways, one might wonder at Olivier taking the role of the barely talented Archie Rice—it’s almost as if Osborne said, you want me to write a play for you, I’ll write a play that is about you and everything you represent and I will make it was ugly as I can. But Olivier tackled it with gusto, almost as if there was something inside him that agreed with Osborne; he plays it as if it’s not just another role, but is an autobiography of his life (and Olivier often called it his favorite role). As a screenplay, it’s very much of it’s time, though the idea of making the broken down music hall of by-gone generations a metaphor for Great Britain is fun. Except for the character of Archie Rice, who is too self-loathing a character and too brilliant a portrayal to look away from, it’s hard to say that the movie rises above what it is, a fine example of the “angry” genre. It’s also s a lot of fun seeing a group of rising young stars in the supporting roles (Alan Bates, Albert Finney, Daniel Massey and Joan Plowright—who plays Rice’s daughter, later to become Olivier’s wife, but don’t worry, it’s not creepy or anything). Brenda De Banzie goes for broke playing Rice’s long-suffering wife. The veteran actor (even more veteran than Olivier) Roger Livesey plays Rice’s father, who for some reason Osborne treats with dignity and who is suppose to have all the talent Rice doesn’t have—though at the same time, the character is never allowed to prove it. As a museum piece, it’s highly entertaining (pardon the pun).

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