by John Farr
Three early 60s gems from director Tony Richardson.
The Entertainer (1960)
Fading vaudeville comic Archie Rice (Laurence Olivier) plays to virtually empty music halls in Britain’s seaside provinces, limping through the same stale routines in garish make-up, but side-steps his failure through pathetic flings with younger women. Selfish, arrogant, and insensitive to those around him, especially alcoholic wife Phoebe (Brenda De Banzie), Archie ultimately damages the lives of everyone in his family, including doting daughter Jean (Joan Plowright).
WHY I LOVE IT:
Ironically the foremost symbol of traditional English theatre, Olivier showed off his astounding range with an anti-heroic, tour-de-force turn in Tony Richardson’s 1960 drama, adapted from John Osborne’s play. Reprising his celebrated stage role, Sir Larry has a field-day playing Rice, a somewhat ghoulish has-been who personifies his own nation’s decay, and the effort earned him an Oscar nomination. De Banzie and newcomer Plowright (who’d go on to marry Olivier) excel in supporting roles.
Sentenced to a boys reformatory for robbing a bakery, rebellious English punk Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay) soon attracts the interest of the schools Governor (Michael Redgrave) for his athletic prowess. Hoping to groom Colin for a cross-country race against a public school, the Governor endows him with special privileges. But is the embittered Colin willing to be house-trained?
WHY I LOVE IT:
One of the best of Britain’s Angry Young Man films, Richardson’s expressive drama hinges on the complex psychology of Colin, an uneducated but cunning youth still smarting from the recent death of his father. Richardson builds tension by cutting between the restrictions and tensions of reform-school life and Colin’s recollection of events leading up to his arrest and detention. Courtenay (“of “Billy Liar” fame) gives a haunting performance in the title role, and Redgrave is masterful playing a cold rehabilitator obsessed with winning a trophy. For a powerful expression of working-class disaffection, go the distance with “Runner.”
Tom Jones (1963)
Based on Henry Fielding’s book, Tom (Albert Finney) is a fortunate orphan adopted by a wealthy squire in eighteenth century Britain. In young adulthood, Tom’s good looks and lusty nature fuel an irresistible attraction to the opposite sex . With various parties set against him due to his humble birth and shaky morality, our hero can’t win the approval of Squire Western (Hugh Griffith) to marry beautiful daughter Sophie (Susannah York). Soon Tom must leave home to seek his fortune, and a host of bawdy adventures ensue. Will Tom ever be found worthy of his beloved Sophie?
WHY I LOVE IT:
Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Tony Richardson’s rousing film has all vital elements in proper alignment: a brilliant screenplay by playwright John Osborne, swift pacing fueled by John Addison’s zippy harpsichord score, and colorful performances from a powerhouse cast including Griffith, Joan Greenwood, Diane Cilento, Edith Evans, and a young David Warner as the priggish Mr. Blifil. York is the epitome of fair English beauty, and Finney carries off the central role with gusto. Sumptuous color photography is another bonus. Don’t miss the famous Finney/Cilento eating scene.