“He’s attracted to adversity.”
Director Douglas Hickox’s succinct and uproarious adaptation of Joe Orton’s play manages to make the transition from stage to screen thanks to a well executed adaptation by Clive Exton. Although this is a drama with only four notable speaking parts set in one central location, Hickox make proceedings more cinematic by filming outside the house as much as inside, particularly in the scenes in the expansive graveyard. Entertaining Mr Sloane is a dark relationship comedy that is deliberately unacceptable and, at the same time, utterly hilarious.
Kath (Beryl Reid) is watching a funeral in notably inappropriate dress whilst devouring a lollipop. Wandering home she comes across a half naked man lying on a grave. “What a smooth skin you have on you,” she announces and they strike up a conversation. The man, who introduces himself as Mr. Sloane (Peter McEnery), reveals he has little money and nowhere to stay. Clearly besotted, Kath offers him accommodation in her nearby home. Mr. Sloane takes up the opportunity but on their arrival Kath’s father Kemp (more commonly called ‘Dadda’) (Alan Webb) takes an instant dislike to him, although his daughter is adamant that he will stay. Kath is all too happy to look after Mr. Sloane, providing meals for both him and her father even though Kemp is more fond of indulging in pickled onions directly from the jar, despite them giving him serious indigestion. And then there’s Kath’s brother Ed (Harry Andrews) who owns a huge, expensive and very squeaky pink car. At first he doesn’t seem too enamoured with Mr. Sloane but soon alters his initial perceptions, even if he is concerned by the lodger’s apparently inappropriate desire towards his sister. Ed eventually warms to the young man and helps him buy some nice brown leather apparel suitable for him to wear as they drive in the outrageous car. But can he be sure of Mr. Sloane’s intentions towards both the car and his sister? Will the four protagonists form a bizarre, if dysfunctional, family or is there a more unexpected solution?
Entertaining Mr Sloane is a black comedy about the relationships which blossom between the four main protagonists and alter magnificently from desire to hatred. Dadda dislikes Mr. Sloane from the outset, recognising him as a ne’er do well, possibly even a murderer, and injures his leg by stabbing him with a garden implement, but this gives Kath the chance she needs to keep him in the house and act as a faux nurse to the injured man. “Do you mind taking your trousers off? Don’t mean anything inappropriate…” she murmurs but, of course, her intentions are anything but wholesome. They all wallow in their own, often self-imposed, misery to gain, they hope, sympathy and everyone has an ulterior motive. “I’m a widow, although we were never married,” Kath declares as she uses this loneliness as an excuse to seduce the new lodger in her own uniquely flirtatious manner: “You’d have me naked on the floor given half the chance.” Mr. Sloane may well respond amorously to her lustful intentions and sleep with her but this doesn’t stop him cheekily stealing Ed’s car at night and to see the sort of girls he truly desires. Matters take even more tragic (or not, depending on your perception) turn as the relationships between the four develop further, with catastrophic results that merely enhance the hilariously inappropriate nature of the film.
Extras on the DVD include some featurettes, Leonie Orton: Remembering Joe, John Lahr on Joe Orton and an interview with Mr. Sloane himself, Peter McEnery. There is also a documentary about the London locations used in the film.
It goes without saying that Entertaining Mr Sloane, written with mirth by Joe Orton, makes for wonderfully entertaining viewing, especially if you like your comedy very dark indeed.