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Warner Home Video presents
Aimee: What did you have in mind? Inhumement, entombment, inurnment, immurement? Some people lately have preferred ensarcophagusment. It's very individual.
DVD ReviewIn 1963, Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death was published, exposing the funeral industry as a collection of sleazebags preying on the relatives of the departed in their chase after the almighty dollar. Evelyn Waugh's novel anticipated Mitford some fifteen years early, dealing as it does in the same subject matter. Waugh's comic novel pushed to absurdity its use of the funeral business, but things had changed little by the time Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood adapted the book for their script. The result is an overlong and uneven film, but still filled with enough grotesque humor and images to remain worth seeing today.
Dennis Barlow (Robert Morse), an English poet without purpose or job, arrives in Los Angeles to visit his uncle, the painter Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud), now working at a Hollywood studio. When Sir Francis is the victim of a studio cull, he commits suicide, leading the contingent of British expatriates to assign Dennis the task of arranging a suitable funeral to make the Brits look good. He arrives at Whispering Glades (based on the real-life Forest Lawn cemetery), run by the shady Reverend Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters). During his visit, he meets Aimee Thanatogenos, a "cosmetician of the Gothic Slumber Rooms." Falling in love at first site, he courts her, all the while working for the Reverend's brother Harry (Winters again), a former studio exec fired along with Sir Francis, who starts up a similarly tacky cemetery, this time for pets. The reverend's final goal for Whispering Glades leads to the funeral business reaching new frontiers...
I have no idea how audiences of the time reacted to The Loved One, but it retains some punch today, basically because death hasn't exactly gone away, and the funeral industry is just as potent. America's continuing demand for more, more, more remains as strong as ever, and in a character like Mrs. Joyboy (Ayllene Gibbons) finds its ultimate expression. The film suffers in taking too long to get to the good stuff; the opening section in which Dennis is introduced to the Hollywood lifestyle is rather tedious and not especially funny. Plus, at least these days, the satirical picture of Hollywood presented has been done to death, and Sir Francis' treatment at the hands of the studio, and his bittersweet departure take the film into genuine emotion, a jarring change considering the overall tone of the film, which generally takes nothing seriously. Consequently, the film only kicks into gear once we meet the employees of Whispering Glades, and see Dennis enter the pet funeral biz.
The performances among the main cast are quite good, with Rod Steiger's Mr. Joyboy as fun to watch as it must have been for Steiger to perform. Anjanette Comer's Aimee is all nervous, twitchy sex appeal and neediness, but she and Morse don't have any real chemistry. I have to admit I've never liked Jonathan Winters, but he's quite suitable in his dual roles here. The film is littered with name actors in small roles; giving the film a little stunt-casting feel that I've always found annoying in movies. So you'll see James Coburn as a customs officer, Liberace as a Whispering Glades coffin salesman, Dana Andrews as an Army general, Tab Hunter as a Whispering Glades tour guide, and there are plenty more minor names on hand.
The film's portrayal of the funeral racket is a hoot, showing Whispering Glades as a theme park dedicated to death, with all the customers' needs ready to be served, and the people within almost as members of a very weird cult. Joyboy's first appearance, where we see him manipulate Sir Francis's face to show off a series of expressions, is only the start of the oddball behavior here. The Reverend's plans for Whispering Glades, finding that it doesn't have the financial staying power to remain a valid proposition, pushes the limit in terms of where to send corpses, and his gladhanding of the military backers he needs to make it work, complete with hookers in coffins, is funny if a tad obvious on the message scale.
The grossest, and funniest, scenes feature Mother Joyboy, the shining light of Mr. Joyboy's life. His freaky dedication to his mother aside, the out and out repulsiveness of these scenes made the picture for me. This grossly obese woman, obsessed, naturally enough, with food, provides some measure of counterbalance to the death side of things with a look at how bad it can get while you're actually alive. Mother Joyboy's near orgasmic reaction to the food commercials she's memorized the broadcast times of is disturbing, and seeing her feverishly tuck into an entire suckling pig, and later, wallow in the spilled contents of a tipped over refrigerator, almost pushes things too far. Comer's barely suppressed reactions of horror at the Joyboy household are great to watch as well.
The film somewhat goes off the rails with the introduction of Gunther (Paul Williams), a genius teen with a affinity for rockets. The natural adaptation of his talent to the funeral racket, and his similar appearance to Joyboy make the parallels between the two evident, but the satire is again rather obvious. The movie peters out towards the end, with Dennis nonplussed at Aimee's fate, but returning home a wiser fellow.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Shot in beautiful black and white by Haskell Wexler, the image quality looks very nice here, very slightly soft in terms of details but quite clean otherwise. Smallish, white subtitles in English, French, and Spanish are on hand and selectable on the fly.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The film looks to have been completely post-synched, which results in a somewhat disembodied quality to the soundtrack on occasion, but it's otherwise fine.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Extras Review: The featurette Trying to Offend Everybody (15m:09s) includes a handful of the main players (Morse, Comer, Wexler, Williams) and does a solid job of discussing the making of the film. I would have liked to hear more about the picture's reception, but this is a solid piece without any major revelations. The original, somewhat frenetic trailer is also on hand.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsIn some ways past its sell by date and in others still on target, The Loved One is a mixed bag, but with enough funny and worthwhile material to make it worth looking at. The DVD is fine, with a decent retrospective featurette to bolster the main presentation.
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