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Roger Lewis On Olivier [Dec. 13th, 2007|12:17 pm]
Tony Grist
Laurence Olivier has always bugged me- which is why I'm reading Roger Lewis's little book about him. Well, not reading, more like skimming. The reason he bugs me is because I've been hearing all my life that he's the greatest actor of the 20th century and I've never been able to see it and I wish I could. 

He didn't leave much behind. Not in terms of quality. He was in lots of films but few of them were good-  and  few of them offered him a starring role.  The Shakespeare movies,  Hitchcock's Rebecca, The Entertainer, Spartacus- these are the career highlights. And the Shakespeare performances are really just the record of big, fruity stage performances. That goes for The Entertainer too. He was good in Rebecca but Cary Grant would have been better and he was good in Spartacus but it's Ustinov you remember. He did quite a lot of TV in old age, but nothing wonderful. Did his cameo performance dominate Brideshead Revisited? No, it didn't. John Gielgud- another fruity, old stage actor- puts in a teeny-tiny appearance that's a lot more compelling. 

Was he gay? Lewis doesn't think so.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2007-12-13 01:34 pm (UTC)

Grrr. You belittled my hero.

Cary Grant would *not* have been better in Rebecca. When I read the book, fairly young, I thought -- that's an Olivier part. And I was thrilled to find out that he played it, and even happier to read that the director (or producer, I forget which) pencilled in Olivier's name in the margin when he read the desciption of Maxim de Winter.

His Shakespeare films are notable for his heroic attempts to bring Shakespeare to film -- we may consider them impossibly campy now, but we forget what a groundbreaking thing they were.

From the Thirties I really enjoyed Wuthering Heights and Pride & Prejudice as well.

Finally, he took on a lot of potentially demeaning film work to support his family in his old age, some of it pretty good. I give you Marathon Man and an unexpectedly strong performance in an otherwise deadly Bunny Lake is Missing. Finally, I think that his Lear, done when he was old and frail and had a terrible time carrying the actress that played Cordelia, was just heartbreaking.

P.S. Was he gay? Does it matter?



Edited at 2007-12-13 01:35 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-12-13 02:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Grrr. You belittled my hero.

I like the Shakespeare films. I gave Hamlet a very favourable "review" a few weeks back. I'm not saying Olivier was rubbish, I'm just saying I don't see that his film roles demonstrate his pre-eminence.

Unfortunately his stage work- on which his reputation really rests- is now inaccessible to us.

The great British actors of my youth were Olivier, Gielgud, Richardson, Redgrave and Guinness, but Olivier was always first among equals. Judging them now, by the work they left behind, he seems the weakest of the bunch.

As for him being gay- well, there's been a lot of gossip about it recently and I'm nosey.



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