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Look Back in Anger Movie Review

burton osborne jimmy john

By the time Look Back in Anger arrived on the big screen, only three years had elapsed since its theatrical nod had created a sensation, but it seemed much longer. At age 27, John Osborne had forever changed the look and sound of British theatre, but his Angry Young Man had aged prematurely. In its own grouchy way, Osborne's hatred of the status quo seemed to echo the civilized rantings of previous generations of writers who detested anything that flourished after the Victorian era and during their own lifetimes. Richard Burton at 33 had the well-fed look of personal prosperity, which undercut the savagery of Jimmy Porter's rantings and ravings against The System. Kenneth Haigh, who originated the role at London's Royal Court Theatre, had not only been a much younger Jimmy Porter at 27, but there was also an ambiguity about his sexuality that Burton doesn't project. Why do Porter's feelings for his wife Alison (Mary Ure) vacillate between childlike obsession and casual cruelty? Why is Cliff Lewis (Alan Bates onstage, Gary Raymond in the film) always hanging around, asserting his love for both Jimmy and Alison? And the cool Helena Charles (Helena Hughes onstage, Claire Bloom onscreen) adores Alison and despises Jimmy, who despises her just as much in return. (This doesn't stop them from becoming sexually obsessed with each other.) The play had just these four characters plus the smallish part of Colonel Redfern played by John Welsh onstage and by Glen Byam Shaw onscreen. But in the film, old Mrs. Tanner isn't just described by Jimmy Porter, she's fleshed out by the formidable Edith Evans, which knocks the violent sexual tension off balance and rather dissipates the impact of Osborne's intricately crafted games for a one-room flat. It is a good adaptation of a landmark play, instead of a great one, and a small splash in the wave of Great Britain's “kitchen sink” flicks instead of a standard bearer, even though its brilliant theatrical director Tony Richardson stayed on to helm the picture. Burton and Bloom were more successfully teamed in 1965's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Ure and Burton co-starred in 1968's Where Eagles Dare opposite Clint Eastwood. By that point, Osborne (1929–94) was firmly entrenched in The System he never ceased to assail. Audiences who watched other actors attempt to update Look Back in Anger in the ‘80s (Malcolm McDowell) and ‘90s (Kenneth Branagh) realized how deeply its rage was rooted in the 1956 malaise that ignited it.

1958 99m/B GB Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Mary Ure, Edith Evans, Gary Raymond, Glen Byam Shaw, George Devine, Donald Pleasence, Phyllis Neilson-Terry; D: Tony Richardson; W: John Osborne, Nigel Kneale; C: Oswald Morris; M: John Addison. VHS, LV

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