Laurence Olivier did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Bafta, for portraying General John Burgoyne in The Devil's Disciple.
Although I have listed before that Sleuth is Olivier's showboating performance of just how good he is, but there is yet another one to note. This time in the role of General John Burgoyne a high ranking British General attempting to stop the American Revolution. The only problem is that Burgoyne does not seem to be all that interested in his duties as a General. Burgoyne was actually a dramatist, which seemed to be his true calling opposed to soldiery. This fact does not come up in the film's dialogue ever, but it seems to have been taken into consideration by Olivier's performance. Olivier is terrific because he essentially plays Burgoyne as a playwright who basically treats his current reality as if it were a play. Olivier has it less being that Burgoyne is a General, but instead that he's playing the part of a General as one should. There Olivier brings such a confidence and proper stature to General Johnny as he walks about as a British General should, and speaks with such authority as he quickly delivers his orders as though it was some sort of game. Olivier is great in this early scene as he takes a momentary pause from the game as he is forced to somberly nod just before a suspected rebel is about to be hanged.
The succeeding scenes Olivier is so much fun in depicting the excessively proper style of Burgoyne as attempts to fulfill his duties as General. Olivier always shows Burgoyne's mind to be slightly above it all more than anything. Olivier is terrific in depicting this needlessly indulgent manner of Burgoyne such as when his men demand some random Americans that are in the way get out immediately, despite the forcefulness of his entourage, Olivier presents the most pleasant of hand waves to smooth over the communication. Of course this even is the case in most of his interactions with his men, particularly a far more spirited soldier played by Harry Andrews. One of the best moments depicting this is when his men are being delayed in the forest and his men are frustrated to no end by sniper attacks as well as being forced to constant delays due to trees being purposefully cut to block their passage. Olivier keeps the perfect composure of General Burgoyne as the most aggravated he gets about the attacks is when he must apologize to his lady friend for the disturbance of the tea time. Olivier gives us the most impossibly gentlemanly soldier one can imagine, and it is marvelous.
Now Olivier would go on to win a Bafta as an excessively proper General a decade later for Oh What A Lovely War, but in that case he played a fool, Olivier actually does not play Burgoyne as a fool, which is quite interesting. In fact it is quite the opposite as Olivier suggests that his lax manner in part comes from the General possibly being a little too knowledgeable about the affair to the point that he is rather sure of the results. One of Olivier's best scenes is when Douglas's character is put on trail for being mistaken for Lancaster's character, although it's for a crime that Douglas's character committed. Burgoyne does not handle the proceedings, but rather observes the proceedings offering a few bits of commentary now again. These are usually in the form of the General's rather extreme cynicism that is technically opposed to his goals as a General, but clearly masked through wit to avoid any problems. Olivier is hilarious as he has impeccable timing in each and one of these brilliant lines that he ensures are as biting as possible. I particularly love though how bright and inspiring Olivier's manner is as though Burgoyne is technically laughing at himself a bit due to the conundrum he's found himself in.
Olivier is showboating here at his finest as every time the camera turns to him it's sure to be something special, Olivier simply shows how showboating is done since it fits the part as well as he ensure that we're getting as much enjoyment from watching him as he seems to be having performing the part. One of my favorite moments of his has to be when Douglas's character questions the British who are going to have him hanged simply because its their job, to which Olivier retorts with such sly delicacy that if the man were to see Burgoyne's pays stubs he'd think better of him. Olivier's work is so consistently delightful while wholly delivering the purpose of the character still. Olivier in the end presents him as a man of duty still, but nevertheless a man who's not going to let his own duty fool himself, or stop himself from trying to enjoy his current existence best he can. When Burgoyne is forced to deal with something directly, that being negotiations due to some surprisingly results of a battle, Olivier is excellent in portraying a more incisive figure, who certainly commands a presence while trying to do his best to maintain his army's position. Of course this makes it all the funnier afterwards where Olivier depicts the exasperation rather than disbelief when Burgoyne has realized he's positioned to lose his next battle simply because the British war office did not want to disturb another General's plans. It needs to be said that the part of General Burgoyne is a great one, and Olivier wholly realizes this with his equally great performance. Every juicy line he has he articulates flawlessly and he manages to give one of the most thoroughly entertaining performances of his illustrious career.