Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams. A rich plantation owner and his family come to grips with their greed, envy, and self-delusion.
The Collection by Harold Pinter. What did, or did not, take place in a Leeds Hotel ruffles the lives of four habitues of fashionable London.
Hindle Wakes by Stanley Houghton. An independent young mill worker refuses to bow to convention after an indiscretion with the bosss son.
Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge. Loss and regret bubble to the surface of a troubled marriage after a young boarder moves in.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday by Eduardo de Filippo. A monumental argument erupts, smolders, and subsides over a weekend in the life of a boisterous Italian family.
The Ebony Tower, the novella by John Fowles adapted by John Mortimer. A young artist studying the work of a great painter becomes intrigued by the elderly mans female companions. Contains some nudity.
The staggering breadth of roles in Laurence Olivier Presents will reaffirm why so many consider Olivier the greatest actor of the modern era. With every part, from a fussy, controlling lover in Harold Pinter's The Collection to Tennessee William's swaggering Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to a daffy Italian patriarch in Saturday, Sunday, Monday, the British thespian tackles every role with zest and skill, never letting the seemingly effortless accents overshadow the emotions. Ironically, the show that really emphasizes Olivier's talent is the one he isn't in: Hindle Wakes, a strikingly progressive and sardonically funny play from 1912, is co-directed by Olivier and stars Donald Pleasance. Pleasance is a topnotch actor, solid and subtle, but he just doesn't have the cunning intelligence and perpetual fire that burns in Olivier's eyes. These plays feature a fantastic array of actors (including Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Natalie Wood, Joan Plowright, and Alan Bates), but the one who really gives Olivier a run for his money is Joanne Woodward. Her performance as the lonely wife of a struggling Midwestern alcoholic (Olivier) in Come Back, Little Sheba is wrenchingly sad without once asking for pity. Their combined firepower, supported by a simple but assured performance by Carrie Fisher, makes this William Inge play the strongest of a substantial selection. (The one weak spot is the "bonus" film The Ebony Tower; though less stage-bound--it was adapted from a novel by John Fowles, not from a play like the others--the story is lightweight and tries to make up for it with copious nudity.) Towards the end of his career, Olivier took on a lot of mediocre movies for the money; these straightforward but effective television productions will erase all memory of the mercenary hackwork and leave Olivier's fierce, phenomenal talent glowing in your mind. --Bret Fetzer
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