Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Entertainer (1960)
Studio Line: MGM

Screen legend Laurence Olivier (Wuthering Heights) delivers an Oscar-nominated, "smashing performance" (Time) in this riveting film that brought him his "greatest contemporary role" (Pauline Kael). Co-starring Albert Finney and Alan bates (in their screen debuts), this powerful, thought provoking and vividly theatrical film, true to its name, is supremely entertaining.

Career first. Everything else second. According to vaudevillian Archie Rice, the show must go on - even if it means stringing along his fellow performers, exploiting the hopes and money of a starlet and neglecting his own family. This is Archie's world… but not everyone wants to live in it. His only daughter (Joan Plowright) will do everything she can to break through and bring him around… if only she can make him listen.

Director: Tony Richardson
Cast: Laurence Olivier, Brenda De Banzie, Roger Livesey, Joan Plowright, Alan Bates, Daniel Massey, Albert Finney
Nominated for Best Actor-Laurence Olivier. 1961.
DVD: Widescreen 1.66:1; audio English Monaural; subtitles French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 16 chapters; not rated; 104 min.; $19.98; 6/19/01.
Supplements: None.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/C/F

On the back of this DVD, we learn that actors Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright married in 1961 and stayed united until the former’s death in 1989. While that seems sweet, the inclusion of this detail along with The Entertainer appears a little creepy, for in the film, Olivier plays Plowright’s father. Of course, they weren’t actually related, but this aspect of the production lends an unintentionally tawdry air to the proceedings; when you know this subsequent development, it can feel a little weird to watch the scenes between Plowright and Olivier.

Even without this fact, I still doubt I’d feel too positively toward The Entertainer. On the surface, it sounds like a compelling proposition. The film focuses on the family of Archie Rice (Olivier), the titular performer. Archie’s essentially a has-been, but he refuses to let go of the show business in his blood. He does whatever he can to maintain his career despite the negative impact this has on his relatives. Archie cheats frequently on long-suffering wife Phoebe (Brenda De Banzie), who was actually an old conquest of his when he violated the trust between himself and his first spouse, the mother of his children. Archie also uses anyone who might be able to assist him, and he seems totally unable to show any form of true emotion toward others; he lost himself within his public persona years ago.

While these topics could have made for a rich and involving drama, I felt that The Entertainer felt too forced and superficial. Olivier aptly portrayed Archie and added one of the film’s strongest aspects. On one hand, it seemed as though his performance lacked depth; we never found out much about what made Archie tick. On second thought, however, that dimension appeared to be totally appropriate. Archie had very little substance to him. He desired nothing more than fame and popularity, and he would do anything necessary to remain in the spotlight. Olivier maintained a glib and artificial tone that suited Archie.

Some of the other performers seemed to be less successful, though. As daughter Jean, Plowright was meant to ground the production, but I felt she might have done this too well. She appeared rather bland and uninvolved in the role, and she did little more than act as our tour guide for the proceedings. Essentially Jean tried to act as Archie’s conscience, but she didn’t do so too successfully since he continued to use everyone around him. Plowright was fine in the part, but I thought its inherent blandness became a minor hindrance.

The other supporting roles also suffered from a lack of depth. As Phoebe, De Banzie seemed awfully shrill and histrionic. She failed to deliver much sense of personality or depth other than as a weak-willed doormat who put up with Archie’s misdeeds due to her own personality failings. The character never receives much useful exposition that might better support her issues, and I thought she came across as generally unlikable and unsympathetic.

Probably the role for which I felt the most empathy was Archie’s dad Billy (Roger Livesey). He also worked as a performer, but apparently with more success than Archie, as Billy’s name still has some allure to it. Eventually, Archie uses his dad to further his own ends, without much consideration for the old man’s concerns. Livesey didn’t do much with the part, but Billy still case across as more substantial than the others, perhaps because he was virtually the only proactive member of the group; he tried harder than any of the rest to alter Archie’s negative behavior.

Two notable actors got early roles as Archie’s sons, but neither had much to do. Frank (Alan Bates) received a fair amount of screen time, but the part seemed to be thin and lifeless; Frank appears somewhat superficial himself, but we never really get to learn much about him. As son Mick, Albert Finney had even less to do. We only saw Mick during a few early scenes; otherwise, he loomed more as an off-screen presence due to his involvement in military activities.

Frankly, I thought Mick felt more like a plot contrivance than a real character. It appeared like he existed solely as a method through which we might see some emotion from Archie; Mick’s experiences didn’t go smoothly, so the opportunity existed for Archie to break through his shell. Of course, this didn’t happen, which was why Mick seemed so artificial to me; he was little more than a means to an end.

The Entertainer has some interesting moments, and it was compelling to watch Olivier bring the role to life. However, I thought the film generally lacked much purpose, and it felt fairly predictable and inert. It propagated its concepts heavily and without much subtlety, which ultimately made it a less useful project.

The DVD:

The Entertainer appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the picture occasionally showed its age, as a whole I thought it provided a surprisingly solid impression.

Sharpness usually seemed to be nicely crisp and detailed. A few wider shots demonstrated minor softness, but these instances occurred only rarely. Overall, the picture looked distinct and well-defined. Jagged edges presented no concerns, and moiré effects remained modest; they cropped up mainly through clothing patterns and they stayed small.

Print flaws caused a few problems, but they seemed to be relatively minor for a movie from 1960. Some light grain appeared during the film, and I also saw periodic examples of grit and speckles. A few more significant defects like blotches, streaks, and a tear or two occurred, but these were much less frequent. The print wasn’t perfect, but it appeared much cleaner than I expected.

Black levels came across as quite deep and rich for the most part, and the movie generally exhibited clear contrast. I noticed modest flickering to the image at times, but this wasn’t a major issue. Shadow detail looked appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy. Some interiors seemed a little drab, but most low-light sequences came across nicely. Ultimately, I found The Entertainer to offer a rather pleasing visual experience.

The monaural soundtrack of The Entertainer sounded decent for the era, but it lacked any qualities that would make it stand out in that crowd. Dialogue usually came across as somewhat thick and tinny but distinct, though some exceptions occurred. At times, the speech seemed to be a bit edgy and sibilant, and an odd hum occasionally accompanied some lines. Although I experienced some problems related to intelligibility, I think these related more strongly to the various accents; those combined with some of the flaws to make parts of the dialogue a little tough to comprehend at times.

Music and effects both showed moderately harsh and trebly tones; these were not extreme, but they made those elements seem a bit grating at times. Most of the track lacked source flaws, but some hiss and noise did crop up toward the end of the film. Ultimately, even with its problems, the audio for The Entertainer seemed fairly average for the era.

The only area in which The Entertainer completely flopped related to its extras. We get absolutely none. The DVD offered no trailer, no booklet, no biographies - nothing! Actually, the back of the case included the “Fact From the Vault” I mentioned earlier, but I refuse to consider that minor tidbit as an actual supplement.

As a film, The Entertainer was a sporadically interesting piece, but I felt it eventually collapsed under the weight of its pretensions. The film bludgeoned us with its ideas, and the lack of subtlety made it a minor chore to watch at times. The DVD offered a surprisingly solid picture plus mediocre sound and no extras. With a list price of only $19.98, The Entertainer may warrant a look from fans of the participants, but I thought it was a bland package as a whole.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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