TCM broadcast The Entertainer a while back, so I recorded it and watched it last night.
I hadn’t seen it in years. It was one of the stable of Angry Young Man, “kitchen sink” films regularly shown on local TV when I was growing up: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Look Back in Anger.
The Entertainer cropped up less frequently — it’s really more about an angry old man, and therefore not as sexy as Osborne & Richardson’s other stuff.
The Entertainer is a deeply depressing movie about “life” at the lowest, tackiest dregs of show biz: the dying musical hall/holiday camp culture of post-war Britain, show here at its shabby, parochial, ration-book worst.
Almost everyone and everything is ugly, poor and shabby.
More than once, a character declares matter of factly that England is dying, and smart people — lucky people with the means to do so– are getting the hell out while they can.
(It helps to bear in mind that the Suez Crisis was a sort of mini-Vietnam War event for the English.)
You can’t disagree, and can’t help but wonder whether saving England from Hitler was worth it.
It’s something I’ve wondered a few times over the years, here on this blog.
But The Entertainer was made in 1960. The Beatles and Beyond the Fringe and “Swinging London” were just a few years away. England would go from black and white to color.
Then tumble again, as unions and ridiculous taxation crushed the place. And then punk and Thatcher would emerge.
England is a disaster again right now. I don’t know whether or not it can pull itself together again, even superficially — and what were the 1960s if colourful and superficial, but still, entertaining for a time? Were they worth it? Did they do more harm than good?
The point is: if the young man in The Entertainer really does go to Canada, on his generous uncle’s dime, will he be tempted back in a few years?
Is today really as awful as it seems?
(PS: Shirley Ann Field is featured as one of those jolie laide English girls of 1960s British cinema here; she went on to play a notably more attractive character — the mistress — in My Beautiful Launderette.)