On Sunday, I met an old friend of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee at the first annual Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich. It has only just reminded me that, I guess around 1990/1991, Malcolm told me another chum of his – Barrie Keeffe, who scripted the wonderful British gangster movie The Long Good Friday – had approached him with an intriguing, bizarre and possibly brilliant suggestion.
When The Long Good Friday was produced as a TV movie, I was working for Lew Grade’s ATV in Birmingham. Lew had financed The Long Good Friday via one of his subsidiary production companies Black Lion for transmission on the ITV Network at Easter. But, when the movie was completed and Lew saw what the climactic ‘twist’ to Barrie Keeffe’s plot actually was (I presume he had never personally read the script before it was produced), he was morally and patriotically outraged. He immediately withdrew it from its ITV transmission and, initially, refused to even let the producers buy it for themselves for cinema distribution. It was only when George Harrison’s Handmade Films made Lew an offer he couldn’t refuse that he eventually relented and allowed it to be screened in cinemas to critical acclaim.
More than ten years after he had scripted The Long Good Friday, Barrie Keeffe told Malcolm he had bought rights from the Estate of the late John Osborne to update the classic showbiz play The Entertainer.
The Entertainer (which was partially about the Suez Crisis) had been written by Osborne in 1957 specifically for Laurence Olivier who also went on to play the central role of faded and rather seedy comedian Archie Rice in the 1959 movie version.
Barrie Keeffe wanted Malcolm Hardee to star as Archie Rice in this updated stage version but other events in Keeffe’s life intervened and, as far as I’m aware, the updated version of The Entertainer was never written.
I do sometimes wonder what it would have been like.
Malcolm was strangely unable to act – in his various appearances in The Comic Strip Presents, Blackadder etc, he could never really ‘inhabit’ a character. As has often been said by his friends and admirers, Malcolm never really had a stage act: his greatest act and his greatest performance was his life.
But it could have been a masterstroke of casting and the thought of Malcolm Hardee as Archie Rice conjures up all sorts of visions of what might have been.
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An American re-located re-make of The Long Good Friday is due for release in 2011. I don’t have high hopes, although the alleged re-make of The Italian Job triumphed by totally throwing away the original script and just using the title. As Barrie Keeffe’s plot ‘twist’ at the end of the original Long Good Friday – the one which so outraged Lew Grade – is so specific to the UK, it will be interesting to see how the American-based re-make can possibly cope.