Originally a successful stage play at the Royal Court Theatre, John Osborne’s three-act play was adapted as a feature film The Entertainer (1960). This was the second Osborne play to be adapted for the big screen; the first was Look Back in Anger (1959) a stage play that changed British Theatre forever. Tony Richardson directing both the plays and movie adaptations
Filmed mainly on location at the English seaside town of Morecambe Richardson’s second feature film tells a story about the lingering death of the music hall which Osborne used as a metaphor for Britain’s post war decline. We follow the decay through the eyes of ‘has been’ Archie Rice, a seedy vaudeville artist who has that inbred knack of bringing misery and embarrassment to every one close to him.
|Olivier with Shirley Ann Field.|
Both Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright had transferred from the stage version to play identical parts in the feature film. Olivier’s portrayal of Rice was seen as one of his greatest performances, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Plowright plays Archie’s daughter Jean but both of these fine actors give the impression that they have not really left there stage craft behind, with that ‘must be seen and heard at the back’ type acting. Brenda de Banzie provides support as Archie’s long-suffering wife, with Roger Livesey reprising his role as the aged Colonel Blimp in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) as his father. There are debut-acting roles for both Albert Finney and Alan Bates as Archie’s sons.
It was an untidy adaptation with a soundtrack that at times drowned out the dialog. Its commercial failure forced Richardson to decant to America to direct his next film. He did not seem to have the same directorial control over The Entertainer as he did in his previous film or in his two new wave films that were to be his greatest legacy to the British film industry, A Taste of Honey (1961) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962). Incidentally Joan Plowright must have made an impression on Olivier, he divorced Vivian Leigh and married her in 1961.