A juvenile offender (Sir Tom Courtenay) at a tough reform school impresses its Governor (Sir Michael Redgrave) with his running ability and is encouraged to compete in an upcoming race, but faces ridicule from his peers.
Despite success on the field, a rising rugby star senses the emerging emptiness of his life as his inner angst begins to materialize through aggression and brutality, so he attempts to woo his landlady in hopes of finding reason to live.
On the far side of middle age, Archie Rice (Sir Laurence Olivier) lives in a British seaside resort with his father, retired successful vaudevillian Billy Rice (Roger Livesey), second wife Phoebe Rice (Brenda de Banzie), and doting son Frank Rice (Sir Alan Bates). Following in retired Billy's footsteps, Archie is a song-and-dance music hall headliner, with Frank supporting his dad as his shows' stage manager. The waning popularity of Archie's type of shows, a dying form of entertainment, is not helped by Archie's stale second rate material, which brings in small unappreciative crowds. Archie clings to his long-held lifestyle, including heavy drinking and chronic infidelity, of which Phoebe is aware. What Archie has not told his offspring is that Phoebe was his mistress while he was still married to their now deceased mother. His want to be a music hall headliner is despite his financial problems, he an undischarged bankrupt who now signs Phoebe's name to everything. Phoebe wants them ...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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