The Loved One

Dir: Tony Richardson, 1965. Starring: Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, Rod Steiger, Anjanette Comer. Classics.
The Loved One

Besides being one of the funniest, yet strangest comedies ever made, The Loved One may be the greatest satire of life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and has one of the most eclectic, but well used casts of all time (including Jonathan Winters in dual roles, Robert Morse, Milton Berle, Rod Steiger, John Gielgud, Paul Williams, Tab Hunter, Roddy McDowall…oh, and Liberace). Morse plays Dennis Barlow, a young British poet who shows up in Los Angeles to visit his uncle, Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud), a film studio worker. After the uncle dies Dennis gets involved with Aimee (Anjanette Comer), an employee at the sinister funeral home, Whispering Glades.

Based on the book by the big-time British novelist Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), The Loved One was adapted for the screen by the American satirist Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove) and the haughty author and critic Christopher Isherwood (A Single Man). To make this motley crew even more improbable it was directed British filmmaker Tony Richardson who arose to much acclaim during the “angry young man” movement of British filmmaking in the late '50s and early '60s and won an Oscar for Tom Jones. But after The Loved One, he was never able to find his filmmaking footing. The film was shot beautifully in black and white, giving a crisp, yet gothic look to the Los Angeles locations, by legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Bound For Glory) and it was edited by the soon-to-be-major director of the '70s, Hal Ashby (Harold And Maude, Coming Home). All of these very improbable voices came together to create one of the more unique films of the decade.

The oddball all-star cast is perfect, almost a cross between It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World and a John Waters opus. The great Shakespearean actor John Gielgud gives particularly memorable performances as a fey painter who is downsized from the studio, losing everything he knows. The Loved One is a chance to see the manic comedian Jonathan Winters at his best, playing two roles, twin brothers Henry & Wilbur Glenworthy. But the film is stolen and owned by Rod Steiger as the twisted Mr. Joyboy, the funeral home embalmer. He tries to woo Aimee but is dominated by his grotesque mother; a scene where he feeds her dinner (a whole turkey) is one of the great moments of “sick humor” ever put on the screen. The '60s was an amazing decade for Steiger, with towering performances in Doctor Zhivago, The Pawnbroker, winning an Oscar for In The Heat Of The Night, and then Sergio Leone’s underrated Duck, You Sucker. But The Loved One may be the ultimate showcase of his diversity

While many of the more offbeat comic titles of the '60s - Bedazzled, I Love You Alice B. Toklas, Lord Love A Duck or even Terry Southern’s own Candy - all reek of a lazy, stoned, and dated haze, the comedy of The Loved One, though often in bad taste, still feels fresh by today’s standards. The satire elements about the effects of capitalism (making money off the dead and the grieving) are even fresher. Whispering Glades' final plan is to shoot their caskets into space in order to make room for a slick new retirement home - ridiculous, but genius how the film reaches that point. Los Angles is also hauntingly presented as one ugly place, a sparse and sterile tomb of relics of the past; as the studios die, a funeral home is the next best place to exploit the masses. The Loved One is a slightly forgotten masterpiece that needs to be seen to believed.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Mar 11, 2011 5:55pm
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