Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Ortonesque: Mr Sloane's loot

1970 saw the release of the two films based on Joe Orton's hit '60s plays LOOT and ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE. Both are outrageous black comedies and were very successful plays, but maybe they were too black and unconventional for movies then, as it seemed the film-makers did not know what to make of them, and even tried to camp up LOOT so the film now is a grotesque piece, not helped by the casting of the two male leads.
I saw the London production of the play in 1967 (programme, left), when 21, when the two boys were young Simon Ward and Kenneth Cranham, and it was a brilliant production, at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, that little theatre with white tile walls and you go downstairs to it, so it rather resembles a gentleman's public toilet, quite apt in the circumstances. Orton was of course the enfant terrible of theatre then, being hailed as a new working-class Oscar Wilde from Leicester, ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE had been a hit in 1964 - I remember being 18 and walking past the theatre, but had not started my theatre-going just yet then, so I was determined to see LOOT on the stage. Orton also wrote WHAT THE BUTLER SAW and tv productions like THE RUFFIAN ON THE STAIR - all brilliantly funny to read now - and was supposed to script a film for The Beatles, all of which he wrote very funnily about in his explicit diaries, which are a marvellous read of the time, detailing his gay exploits (that Irish labourer in a deserted house, boys in Morocco etc) and his holidays with Kenneth Williams, and that last weekend of his in Brighton when he was looking at houses to buy, as he was planning to leave his long time lover Kenneth Halliwell. Unfortunately, he was not to know that Halliwell would kill him and then himself, on his return to their studio in Islington, London that weekend in August 1967. I was on the coast too that weekend, in Hastings in Sussex, with friends - and it was the big story that weekend, in all the papers, so that was his career and talent snuffed out at age 34. Stephen Frear's 1987 film PRICK UP YEAR EARS, based on the Orton diaries and Jack Laar's book, and scripted by Alan Bennett, covers it all in detail, with great performances from Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina, ably supported by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber, Lindsay Duncan and Julie Walters.

So, to the films: LOOT: Dennis (Hywel Bennett) and Hal (Roy Holder) are inseperable. They are also irreverent, boisterous, highly sexed and eager to acquire a quick fortune by the most expedient method - robbing a bank. Only problem is where to hide their loot - fortunately Dennis works as an undertaker's assistant, so a coffin seems the perfect place to hide it. But from the moment they try to fit a body (Hal's mother who has conveniently died) and the money in the coffin, plans go wrong, and soon the boys have a lot of trouble on their hands as the dreaded Inspector Trustcott (Richard Attenborough) arrives to investigate, and then there is the devious, gold digging nurse (Lee Remick) who was looking after the deceased, and maybe planning to marry the widower, Hal's father (Milo O'Shea) or maybe Dennis himself, whom she has been carrying on with. 

This is all jazzed up with the most hideous set imaginable, a dreadful music soundtrack that never stops, Lee Remick does her best and some of Orton's witty lines survive the Galton & Simpson script, but why is she got up to look like Jean Harlow with peroxide hair and a beauty spot, and sporting that hilarious Irish accent? The boys seem all wrong too - Bennett was unaccountably popular at the time (THE FAMILY WAY, THE BUTTERCUP CHAIN, TWISTED NERVE, PERCY) but Holder looks terrible in that awful wig, neither are in the least appealing. One of the few amusing moments is Lee's nurse pulling up Hywel's underpants over his bare bum. Milo is a lot of fun as usual, and I had forgotten comedian Dick Emery is also in it. Add in the missing eyeball, and the body being moved around, and the boys (Dennis is meant to be bisexual, while Hal is gay) robbing the bank naked (so no evidence on their clothes!) and it all gets sillier and sillier, and looks like one of those dreadful early '70s British efforts like DORIAN GRAY, GOODBYE GEMINI, ALL COPPERS ARE, etc. - as we detail at Trash/London labels. 
The play is the thing here, not this awful movie. Director Silvio Narrizano though had hits with his GEORGY GIRL in 1966 and that odd Terence Stamp western BLUE, as well as a prolific tv career. 

ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE, also 1970, fares a lot better, as directed by Douglas Hickox, with sterling performances by Beryl Reid and Harry Andrews, who play the material 'straight' without the need to camp it up, as that eager brother and sister wanting to get their hands on the thuggish young Mr Sloane - Peter McEnery is a good choice here. Everyone's lack of morals is nicely detailed as Kath (Beryl) and shady businessman Ed (Harry) lock horns over the sexy young lodger Sloane.
Sloane, a handsome, sexy and completely amoral young man, joins Kath's household as a lodger and proceeds to manipulate her and her brother, Ed. He is recognized by Kemp (Dadda) as the murderer of Kemp's former employer, whereupon Sloane murders Kemp. Sloane's "just desserts" are not what one would expect.
Harry Andrews is perfect here, eagerly hiring Sloane as his chauffeur, and Beryl Reid has another great comic role after her stage and screen success in THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, and she certainly goes to town with it here (in that see-through day-glo mini-dress) as she and Andrews provide a comic masterclass in how to play this kind of material. I also saw Beryl reprising her Kath role on the stage in a Royal Court 1975 production with Malcolm McDowell dangerously menacing in leather as Sloane (right).  I had seen McEnery as HAMLET - in Leicester! - around then, and of course he was Boy Barrett in VICTIM, and those films with Hayley Mills, Jane Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Glenda Jackson etc. We also saw him SHADOW OF A GUNMAN at the Young Vic and he was later in a revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC in the late 80s, but his last credit was in 2008.
So, the film of MR SLOANE is still good fun, LOOT is just simply dreadful.

2 comments:

  1. One thing that really annoyed me with Loot was casting Richard Attenborough as Truscott. He is a fine actor, but it's as if they packed him off to the stage production and told him "Play the role just like Michael Bates." It's quite distracting; one might well ask why they didn't just get Bates to do it, although one could probably argue that Attenborough was a more familiar name to filmgoers, and thus the better box office draw.

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  2. Yes he does play it in the same style and looks rather similar to Bates, who was so good in the stage production. The nurse (who may have killed off her patient) was quite ordinary looking too - I can't see why they had to tart her up and give her that Irish accent - but Remick is hilarious here.

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