The Loved One was billed as “The Motion Picture with Something to Offend Everyone!” and it delivers on all of its victims; The Funeral Industry, Hollywood, the Military, and pretty much all of The Seven Deadly Sins. Adapted from the novel by Evelyn Waugh, It is a brilliant black comedy with a stellar cast and biting commentary. I’m sure many viewers were shocked by its outrageousness in 1965, and there may still be some today, but it is milder (and a lot more cerebral) than the gross-out humor of many contemporary comedies.
Our story centers on Dennis Barlow, (Robert Morse) a young Englishman who won a round trip ticket to either Calcutta or Los Angeles. He chooses the latter to be with his uncle, Sir Francis Hinsley, (John Gielgud) who’s been a Hollywood production artist for over 30 years. But when his uncle commits suicide, Dennis is left to make the arrangements, and his bizarre journey through the world of the American Funeral Industry begins.
Whispering Glades is the domain of the “Blessed Reverend” Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters) and is the Disneyland of memorial parks. Like the theme park, everything there is so pretty, so perfect, and so phony. It paints a happy face on the dreaded eventuality of death, giving the viewing areas romantic names like The Gothic Slumber Room. The receptionists masquerade as sexy widows in tight black dresses with low décolletage. But all this polish won’t hide the main goal of the establishment; to make as much money possible on your loved one’s final journey. Counsel Starker, the slimy casket vendor (Liberace) extols the values of the latest models like The Silent Night and The Rest King as proudly as a Jaguar salesman. He reminds Dennis that satin makes a much better coffin lining, because “rayon chafes!” Yes, the caretakers at Whispering Glades will do anything to make you and your loved one happy, (unless you’re Jewish, of course) and the chapel can switch from a wedding to a funeral in minutes.
Dennis is immediately captivated by Aimée Thanatogenos, (Anjanette Comer) a doe-eyed greek beauty of a cosmetologist who is a true disciple of The Blessed Reverend, and blindly faithful to the world of Whispering Glades. She’s considered one of the best funeral cosmologists in the business, despite the fact that the finished Sir Francis looks like a drag queen. To her utter ecstasy, Aimee is made the first lady embalmer of Whispering Glades, which affects her choice of beaus. Dennis is caught in an unlikely love triangle with Aimee’s co-worker Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger). With her choice of suitors set between a sweet young English wanna-be poet or a sweaty middle-aged mama’s boy, one would think her decision obvious, but The Loved One zigs where it could zag, and the result is a bit unsettling, if quite fitting.
The cast is superlative and the direction by Tony Richardson is as sharp and flip as his work on Tom Jones. There’s even a call back to the famous eating scene in that film, although trust me, this time, it isn’t sexy at all. John Gielgud is subtly heartbreaking as he realizes he’s not longer needed in Hollywood society, you can see his soul crumble as he looks back at the studio one last time. Jonathan Winters delights in both roles, as the desperate Henry and conniving Reverend Glenworthy. Henry practically sweats bullets as he begs his brother for a job, and ‘The Blessed Reverend’ is followed by ominous organ music wherever he goes, acting more like a mob boss than a funeral director. Newcomer Combs brings sweet innocence to Aimee, yet you realize, like most of the characters here, she has a screw loose too. Robert Morse as Dennis sympathetic and adorable in his Beatle haircut, he just wants to get a good job and the girl. Although Morse admits in the special features of the DVD that he had to loop all of his dialogue to even out his faux English accent, this is a minor quibble, as we watch Dennis grow more ballsy as the madness bubbles around him. Rod Steiger adds another notch to his creepy character belt as Laf Joyboy, an overly doting Mama’s boy who pines for Aimee and speaks to her with breathy enthusiasm, yet his devotion to his morbidly obese mama treads dangerously near Oedipal territory. Steiger’s ability to get under one’s skin was brilliant and should have been nominated. And Cameos abound, with Milton Berle, Paul Williams, Roddy McDowall, Dana Andrews, and James Coburn!
The Loved One is a movie that will leave you laughing at death, and will surely be one of your loved ones for years to come!
SNACKING GAME SECRET WORD: Eat or imbibe whenever you hear: “Whispering Glades”
- Robert Morse as Dennis Barlow
- Jonathan Winters as Henry & Wilbur Glenworthy
- Anjanette Comer as Aimée Thanatogenos
- Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy
- Dana Andrews as Gen. Buck Brinkman
- Milton Berle as Mr. Kenton
- Ayllene Gibbons as Joyboy’s mother
- James Coburn as Immigration Officer
- John Gielgud as Sir Francis Hinsley
- Alan Napier as a British club official
- Robert Easton as Dusty Acres
- Tab Hunter as Whispering Glades tour guide
- Margaret Leighton as Mrs. Helen Kenton
- Liberace as Counsel Starker, funeral salesman
- Roddy McDowall as D.J., Jr.
- Robert Morley as Sir Ambrose Abercrombie
- Barbara Nichols as Sadie Blodgett
- Lionel Stander as the Guru Brahmin
- Bernie Kopell as Brahmin’s assistant
- Paul Williams as Gunther Fry
Sir Francis: “They ( the Americans) talk entirely for their own pleasure and they never expect you to listen!”
Aimee: “What did you have in mind? Inhumement, Entombment, Inurnment, Immurement? Some people just lately have preferred Ensarcophagusment; it’s very individual.”
Ghandi: (Mrs. Joyboy’s mina bird) “There is no death! There is no death!”
Sir Francis: “I have my usual…Deep Dish Lolita and tea with a sprig of mint”
Laf Joyboy: “Mom’s a heck of a lot of fun isn’t she? She’s every inch a queen!”