This post written, in part, as a review of the "Coming Out Again" series, held in conjunction with NewFest and Quad Cinema in NYC.
Peter McEnery (b. 1940) is a respected, longtime theater actor from England whose film and TV career has been all over the map. Most entertainingly, he managed to leap from the groundbreaking gay-themed British film Victim (1961) to Disney fluff like The Moon-Spinners (1964) to a libidinous role as a lad up for anything in the pre-punk black comedy Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970), adapted from the scandalously popular play by Joe Orton (1933-1967).
McEnery was born February 21, 1940, in Staffordshire. He debuted on British TV in 1959 and made his film debut in 1960's Wild for Kicks. But it was Victim that put him on the map.
Victim, about a middle-aged gay man (screen star Dirk Bogarde, 1921-1999) married to a woman — a man who is being blackmailed for his sexual orientation — was an early sympathetic portrayal of queer people, so early, in fact, McEnery himself changed his mind on the topic.
He said in 2017:
“I was very innocent and ignorant about the gay scene. I didn’t have a very liberal sensibility at the time, I must say. I was brought up just outside Birmingham, and we moved to Brighton when I was a kid, so I really didn’t have much awareness of what was going on. As far as I knew, gay people were effeminate, 'limp-wristed', one would have said, as personified by Kenneth Williams.”
By winning a role as the lead character's devious boyfriend, he came to open his mind on the topic:
When I finished the movie I went straight into the deep end in Stratford with the RSC, so I really wasn’t able to concentrate on what happened to Victim. But I did get a lot of letters from the gay community at the time, largely saying: “We all thank you,” which I thought was very touching.
Following some TV work, McEnery landed a big role in The Moon-Spinners, in which he planted a grown-up kiss on Hayley Mills (1946-1964).
He was the lead in the Disney live-action flick The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966), another teen-heartthrob notch in his belt buckle, though it failed to ignite the box office in spite of his obvious appeal.
Moving on, McEnery worked with Jane Fonda (b. 1937) in The Game Is Over (1966), directed by her husband Roger Vadim (1928-2000).
It was a smash in France, and did mediocre business elsewhere.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane, a 35mm print of which just screened for the first time in the U.S. in forever at the indispensable Quad Cinema as part of the "Coming Out Again" series, finds McEnery playing a rakish blond lad of questionable morals who shacks up with a nymphomaniacal, over-the-hill bird (Beryl Reid, 1919-1996) and her cantankerous "Dadda" (Alan Webb, 1906-1982), and who winds up a sex object of both hers and of her controlling, barely repressed, leather-obsessed brother (Harry Andrews, 1911-1989).
To call the film perverse would be underselling it. [Director Douglas Hickox (1929-1988) helmed pedestrian fair until hitting it out of the park with this one, which includes some twisted angles and visuals (Reid in a shortie, see-through dress clomping through a hilly cemetery; a pink Pontiac with a phallic hood ornament; some deliciously leering framing of McEnery's assets) that would have tickled Orton's funny bone. How he went on to direct John Wayne (1907-1979) soon after (in 1975's Brannigan) is beyond me (they must've kept a print of this away from the Duke), but Hickox also turned in Theater of Blood (1973) with Vincent Price (1911-1993) and Diana Rigg (b. 1938) and Zulu Dawn (1979) with Burt Lancaster (1913-1994).]
McEnery's film and TV career continued until 2008 (so far), and he has been acclaimed on the stage, including in productions of Pericles (1979), The Elephant Man (1980) and Nicholas Nickleby (1982).
In Entertaining Mr. Sloane, McEnery's character ties the knot with a man (a rare image of gay marriage) and a woman, but in life, his domestic situation appears to be more traditional: McEnery was married to actress Julie Peasgood (b. 1956). He's been married for over a dozen years to actress Julia St. John (b. 1960.