"Life is a beastly mess," states the great Olivier in this bleak drama of moral stagnation. He's Archie Rice, a third-rate vaudevillian who, in garish makeup, delivers his creaky song and dance routines before increasingly scarce and indifferent audiences. Rice's home life is as shabby as
his stage career. Phoebe (De Banzie), his loyal wife, has been driven to alcoholism and fits of hysteria by her husband's selfishness and infidelities. His father, Billy (Livesey, the star of THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP), a once famous entertainer, is dying, yet Archie prevails upon him to
back just one more tawdry musical revue. Only Jean (Plowright), his protective daughter, tries to meet Olivier's emotional needs but at the cost of her own professional and personal fulfilment. Archie is an incorrigible liar and self-promoter whose raging ego demands that he be admired by one and
all even if it means destroying the lives of those around him.
This depressing but fascinating film is another Olivier tour de force; he later claimed this role, which he had perfected on the London stage, really reflected his own personality, telling an interviewer that "it had the advantage of being a complete break from the other sort of work and that made
it much more refreshing than tormenting oneself through these punishing roles of Shakespeare. I have an affinity with Archie Rice. It's what I really am. I'm not like Hamlet."
The rest of the cast is stunning, particularly newcomer Plowright and veteran De Banzie (HOBSON'S CHOICE), though Albert Finney and Alan Bates are also memorable as Archie's sons. Scripters Osborne and Kneale present a gloomy and penetrating adaptation of Osborne's play. Richardson's direction of
this unhappy little gem gives off the appropriate dull glimmer while being economical and inventive.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: "Life is a beastly mess," states the great Olivier in this bleak drama of moral stagnation. He's Archie Rice, a third-rate vaudevillian who, in garish makeup, delivers his creaky song and dance routines before increasingly scarce and indifferent audiences.… (more)