Middle-aged Kath (Beryl Reid) comes across the handsome young Mr. Sloane (Peter McEnery) in a cemetery, and liking what she sees invites him to become her lodger. Her father, The Dadda’ (Alan Kemp), is less impressed with this interloper, as he’s convinced he recognises Sloane as the murderer of his former employer.
Sloane isn’t the only one Dadda has issues with, as he hasn’t spoken to his son, Ed (Harry Andrews) for decades, ever since he caught him committing a felony’ in his bedroom as a teenager. Ed initially thinks Kath’s made a mistake taking in a lodger until he meets Sloane, that is. He’s immediately smitten and offers the lad employment, complete with tight leather driver’s uniform.
It seems like a good deal for Sloane, as he gets a free place to live and money in his pocket, as well as the competing affections of Kath and Ed. However, Sloane may still be a murderer, although if he is, he may not get the reaction he expects from Ed and Kath.
This 1970 movie version of Joe Orton’s 1964 play lives in a slightly odd place in that it manages to feel both quaint and edgy at the same time. It’s gleefully amoral attitude and sexual politics still have the ability to surprise and amuse, but the way it’s made places it firmly in the late 60s/early 70s. It revels in the swinging attitudes of the time and the sense that old ideas were in flux and a new, slightly anarchic world was on the horizon.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane also contains what must be one of the first same sex marriages on film. Joe Orton was on record as saying he thought marriage was a rather toxic institution, so here he subverts the whole thing to become a way to trap people, as well as an excuse for sentimental but meaningless ritual.
Where the film is soft in a way the original play isn’t is in its lack of subtlety and bite. Admittedly, farce isn’t the subtlest of genres, but the film has a tendency to signpost every development in an unnecessary way. It was a fairly daring movie for 1970s and wanted to show off how ballsy and different it was to other movies, but it slightly hobbles Orton’s story, as the biting commentary and moral subversion often comes across as a little too broad. That’s not to say it’s a failure, as it still entertains, but its OTT attitude and slight staginess mean it’s not all it can be.
That said, if you’re at all interested in Joe Orton, it’s well worth seeking out. Due to his love of anarchic, biting comedy that attacks many of the pillars of society, there haven’t been that many adaptations of his works although 1970 did see another of his plays come to the screen, Loot. However there sadly aren’t that many of his plays to adapt. Entertaining Mr. Sloane was his first work to find success (and when it did, it was only a couple of years after he’d been given six month in prison for defacing library books an excessive term Orton put down to the judge knowing he was gay).
It started a prolific period of writing, which was cut tragically short when Orton’s lover, Keith Halliwell, bludgeoned him to death and then committed suicide in August 1967. The rather unstable Halliwell had felt increasingly isolated by Orton’s success, and it’s believed the playwright was planning to leave him (and may already have had a new boyfriend). Many believe the needy, clinging Kath in Entertaining Mr. Sloane is based on Halliwell, reflected in her terror of people leaving her.
The Entertaining Mr. Sloane DVD features an interview with Orton, recorded as part of Eamonn Andrew’s chat show. The interview, which is thought to be the only filmed interview with Joe that’s known to survive and which was shot just a couple of months before his death is certainly interesting, with Orton talking about his incarceration and attitudes to society. Admittedly he does have to slightly play the straight man in a conversation about marriage (even though Orton was out’ then, despite it being 1967), presumably because it’s TV and Andrews doesn’t seem to have any conception there’s any other option that being straight.
Overall Verdict: Although not a perfect film, Entertaining Mr. Sloane is a fun, frothy and anarchic farce with a liberated but scathing view of sexual morality. It’s also a worthy intro to the work of gay playwright Joe Orton.
Joe Orton Interview On Eamonn Andrews’s Chat Show
Reviewer: Tim Isaac