by RICHARD WINTERS
Based on the Joe Orton play of the same name, this film deals with a handsome young stranger named Sloane (Peter McEnery) who becomes a lodger at an isolated household in the English countryside. He is on the run from a murder he committed and feels this will be a safe haven due to the only other inhabitants being a quirky old lady name Katherine (Beryl Reid) and her equally quirky father Kemp (Alan Webb). Katherine, or Kath, takes a sexual interest in Sloane despite their wide age difference, which Sloane doesn’t mind as he uses this to manipulate her. When Kath’s brother Ed (Harry Andrews) arrives and takes an amorous interest in Sloane as well, he does the same thing to him. Then Kemp recognizes Sloane as the killer and Sloane is forced to kill him, which culminates with ironic results.
Orton was years ahead of his time. His plays always had a dark, sexual, even explicit nature to them and his characters were always perverse and amoral in a darkly hilarious way. It is unfortunate that his career was cut short (he was bludgeoned to death in 1967 by his jealous gay lover). However, this adaptation by screenwriter Clive Exton seems to miss the mark. The dialogue is endless with very little action. The other adaptation of Orton’s work that was made into a film, Loot, was much livelier and full of a lot of campy, zany humor as well as quick edits and imaginative camerawork. This film is visually dull and all the action is jammed into a cramped, dark house with bland decorations. It never really gets going until the final 15 minutes when you get to see the world’s very first gay marriage performed, but by then it is much too late.
For 1971 this film does seem edgy and even controversial in certain parts. The gay erotic subtext is quite strong especially the way the camera scans Sloane’s tan, half naked body. There is also Ed’s pink Cadillac that he drives around, which I got a real kick out of. I liked the way it squeaked as he drove it and was constantly bouncing up and down. There is also his very provocative hood ornament of a naked man that the camera hones in on. The best part comes when Ed washes his car and is more focused on the ornament, which he lovingly caresses with his towel, than the rest of the vehicle.
However, 40 years later this stuff seems pretty tame and there are too many segments where nothing happens and is handled too conventionally. It seemed like director Douglas Hickox really didn’t get, or appreciate the material enough, or interpret it in some interesting way because the final result is nothing more than a filmed stage play. The music that is used is terrible and almost enough to get you to turn off the film. It’s also overused and played over scenes when it isn’t needed, hurting the film’s mood in the process.
The biggest problem with the film may actually be with actress Reid herself. Don’t get me wrong this is a wonderfully unique actress who has done some memorable work. I especially liked her in The Killing of Sister George, and she is quite good here as well. However, I do have two issues. The first is a small one. It involves the fact that the character wears dentures. In one scene Sloane supposedly knocks them out and breaks them, but then Reid turns around and screams and you can see that she still has teeth in her mouth. The other, much more serious issue is the fact that near the beginning of the film she is seen walking through a cemetery in broad daylight wearing a see through blouse. Now with some women this can be quite sexy and I certainly wouldn’t complain, but when they are 60 and looking more like 70 this is a bad idea, even for perversely comical purposes as it is used here it is still a bad idea. What is even worse is when she turns around and a gust of wind blows up her skirt and you can see her entire bare backside, which might be enough to make some viewers sick.
Now, before anyone accuses me of ageism let me relate an interesting experience that happened to me. Back in 2003 I was home from work and decided to take in a movie. I was living in Chicago at the time and I went to the neighborhood theater to see the interesting French mystery Swimming Pool starring Ludivine Sagnier and Charlotte Rampling. It was a Tuesday and little did I know that it was senior discount day and the place was packed, literally, with people all looking well over the age of 70. The lady that sat beside me looked to be at least 80 and came in using a walker. The film featured an abundance of nudity from the young and attractive Sagnier, which I thought might shock and offend the seniors, but no one reacted to it and everyone went on enjoying the film. Then, towards the end of the movie, 58 year old Rampling starts to take off her clothes and this indeed elicited a nervous response from the crowd. The lady next to me even said “Oh dear”. In all fairness Rampling didn’t look all that bad naked, but it still hits home the point that even old people don’t want to see other old people naked.
My Rating: 3 out of 10 stars