The best way to describe this film is by quoting its own tag line, "The motion picture with something to offend everyone!" This biting satire starts out lampooning Hollywood and the cultural differences between the British and Americans then spends the last two acts attacking the funeral business and polite society in general. The film mercilessly makes fun of everything and anything that it can sink its teeth into.
The film's central character is Dennis Barlow (Robert Morse, THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES), a young wanna-be poet who moves to L.A. from England. He moves in with his gay uncle Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud, ARTHUR), who ends up dying and leads Dennis to Whispering Glades funeral parlor where he meets the beautiful, naive make-up technician Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjanette Comer, THE PENNSYLVANIA MINERS' STORY). Competing with Dennis for the affections of Aimee is effeminate, momma's boy embalmer Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT). To get a picture of what Joyboy is like think of Bill Murray in ED WOOD.
I could describe the insanity of this film but it wouldn't do it justice. This flick is hands down one of the more oddball films I've ever seen, and that's a compliment. The comedy is no-holds-barred which is good when it works and not so good when it doesn't. Some jokes just plainly fail, but this in no way ruins the film, it only weakens its overall greatness a little. At times the satire seems unfocused going more towards pushing buttons than making any find of comment. But these are only small quibbles. In the end one could say that they overall themes are that nothing is sacred and society is corrupt to its core. THE LOVED ONE, based on Evelyn Waugh's novel and adapted by Terry Southern (DR. STRANGELOVE) and Christopher Isherwood (CABARET), is director Tony Richardson's follow-up to his Oscar winner TOM JONES. He truly cashed in all his chips on this one, trying to push as many buttons as humanly possible. Some of the material may be tame by today's standards, but some of it still has the same bite it did 38 years ago.
The cast is amazing featuring Jonathan Winters in two roles, Milton Berle, a young James Coburn, Liberace and Roddy McDowall. Winters plays a fired TV exec who becomes the manager of a pet cemetery and the Blessed Reverend who owns Whispering Glades and discovers that the funeral business is a dying venture and wants to go into retirement homes. His solution to getting rid of all the dead bodies is hilarious. All the other stars make cameos; Berle's being the funniest.
I could go on forever about this film. It's truly a great experience. It will be hard to find because it's not on DVD and isn't readily available on VHS either (I taped it off of Turner Classic Movies), but it's worth every moment of the search and will be a film you will never forget. Getting the image of Mr. Joyboy's mother out of your head might take therapy though.
SPIRITED AWAY (2002) (****)Previous Post
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (1999) (***1/2)