Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Blogathon

Joey of Wolffian Classic Movies Digest is hosting a blogathon where the objective is to cover the films of either Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier or both of them. Being the easily bored blogger that I am, I decided to throw in my two cents on some of their films. I opted to focus on some less talked about performances from both of them. No Gone with the Wind, no A Streetcar Named Desire, no Wuthering Heights, no Rebecca. So what did I pick?

(1960, dir. Tony Richardson)
(1967, dir. Stanley Kramer)
Why these particular films? Well, I'm frequently fascinated with later works of prominent actors. (See also Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City and Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross.) And these are two performances that, if you watch carefully, you can see glimmers of their younger selves.

(More after the jump.)


Olivier’s character of Archie Rice is someone plagued with a number of plights. His career is suffering because vaudeville is slowly becoming an entertainment of the past. (He’s also living in the shadow of his more famous father.) He has money woes, a drinking problem and a wandering eye. And that’s only the tip of this crumbling iceberg.

Reprising his role from the stage, Olivier shows there’s more to him than his usual dabbling with Shakespeare. When he’s performing (whether it’s for a pitiful audience at the music hall or for a few close friends) Archie maintains a “the show must go on” attitude, keeping a twinkle in his eye and firing off quick banter. It’s clear during his more private moments that he’s a man worn out by life. He just wants it all to be over.



Leigh's character of Mary Treadwell is a woman trying to overcome the ghosts of her past. An aging divorcee, she yearns for some type of stability in her life. She tries to reclaim the youth she had in Paris to a varying degree of success. But it's no use; she's attempting to re-live a life that has long since passed.

This being her final film, certain elements of Mary could easily be viewed as Leigh’s personal demons rising to the surface. As is well-known by now, towards the end of her life, Leigh’s physical and emotional health took a turn for the worse (Kramer initially didn’t know of Leigh’s ill health). She was initially viewed by many as Scarlett O’Hara, the self-assertive Southern belle (even though she was British) with the seemingly perfect life; in the end, she became Blanche DuBois, a shell of her former glamorous self.

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