Movie: "The Loved One"
Directed by: Tony Richardson
Writing credits: Terry Southern, Cristopher Isherwood
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Plot: Newly arrived in Hollywood from England, Dennis Barlow has hardly unpacked before his Uncle commits suicide. Left to arrange his uncle's funeral and interment at “Whispering Glades” (A stand in for Hollywood’s famed “Forrest Lawn”), he becomes infatuated by one of their cosmeticians, true believer Aimee Thanatogenos, who turns out to be more than a tad crazy. Complications arise in the form of rival suitor/embalmer Mr. Joyboy, and the shame of now working himself at The Happy Hunting Ground pets' memorial home.
Review: Evelyn Waugh, upon whose book this movie was based, is best remembered in America for his novel “Brideshead Revisited”. It’s a rich, absorbing read, peppered here an there with brief set pieces of viciously dark comedy in the service of larger themes. “The Loved One” makes no such bones. It’s a nasty, hysterical, disdain soaked rip at shallow gaudy American Culture by a foul tempered Old World Brit, the inherent snobbery of which is well balanced by deadly accuracy.
The Movie sticks with the book for the first three quarters, which is a damn shame, as it’s three quarters of a masterpiece. Then for reasons I cannot comprehend, the director parts company with the source material, a fairly ham handed and unnecessary upping of the stakes ensues (forgivable only for the fact that it provides the earliest on screen appearance of tunesmith homunculus Paul Williams I am aware of) and the whole things ends up being just remarkable and not extraordinary.
Sir John Gielgood plays doomed uncle with understated brilliance. Jonathan Winters plays the sibling owners of both cemeteries, Liberace makes an unsettling cameo as a coffin salesman, and Milton Berle has a nice turn as the spouse of a bereaved dog owner, but the best moments belong to Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy. Oily and slightly reptilian, a proudly professional mortician and devoted Mama’s boy, doting on the bed ridden, morbidly obese Mrs. Joyboy, Steiger is a worthy precursor of the sort of character found loitering in the hallways of David Lynch films.
You can get it from Netflix, and you won’t be sorry.
But when you’re done, buy the book.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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