I'm a long-time fan of, well, let's call it "Quirky Cinema," those oddball films that aren't quite wonky enough to achieve significant cult status, but are still sufficiently weird to activate the "WTF?" response. You need to know this in order to understand why I was all a-twitter Wednesday night when Turner Classic Movies broadcast The Loved One Wednesday night.
Loosely based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh (with a heapin' helpin' of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death as lagniappe), The Loved One is classic black comedy and pretty damn outrageous for 1965, its release date. It has its flaws; in fact, it has a lot of them, but still, Rod Steiger as a prissy little embalmer with a serious mother fixation? Liberace as a smarmy, flamingly gay casket salesman? Jonathan Winters in a dual role as the evil and lecherous Blessed Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy and his schlub of a twin brother Harry (not "Henry" as listed in the IMDB entry)? Robert Morley being Robert Morley? Paul Williams (yes, the songwriter!) looking all of 13 (he was 24 at the time) as a rocket-obsessed ubergeek? Cameos by Milton Berle, James Coburn, Tab Hunter, Dana Andrews, and Roddy McDowell? Suicide by formaldehyde? Orgies in the Slumber Room? A naked statue (okay, there's a strategically-placed fig leaf) of Jonathan Winters ("Beauty in many forms!")?
Oh, and Anjanette Comer as the lovely, lovely Aimee Thanatogenos, a veritable Emo Kid/Goth Boy's wet dream.
What's not to like?
I won't regale you with a plot synopsis; it's convoluted, outrageous, strange, sometimes irritating, and has been done better elsewhere (with photos, no less!), but in a movie like this one doesn't look for nuggets of gold, one learns to be satisfied with flecks of color...and there are many flecks of color. Example: when the Rev. Glenworthy realizes he can make far more money turning Whispering Glades (a thinly-veiled Forest Lawn) into a retirement community, he's faced with the seemingly insurmountable problem of what to do with those buried there. Only Jonathan Winters could get away with the line "There's got to be some way to get those stiffs off my property!"
Okay, the downsides. The editing is, at best, inconsistent, sometimes sloppy, sometimes confusing, and once, jarringly avant-garde (for the 'Sixties). It's in black & white, which for some people is unacceptable (such people are in severe need of a good bitch-slapping), and by today's standards its pacing seems agonizingly slow. And I've yet to figure out why so many of the American characters o-v-e-r-e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e. These are not necessarily drawbacks.
I read a review of this film in Time magazine when it was first released (I would have been about ten, which might give you some insight into my childhood) and wanted to see it so badly I'm sure my mother was ready to sell me to the gypsies; however, as you might have expected, my parents considered it "too adult." It was never shown at our local theater, anyway, so I settled for the book until sometime in the late 'Eighties when my friend Sam loaned me a copy he'd taped from The Movie Channel's Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater.
That's another story, by the way.
I loved The Loved One, warts and all. I still do, and though I hesitate to tell people to run out and see it RIGHT DAMN NOW, I will say it's worth a look if you have that same peculiar bent of mind I've been blessed with.
--Insiders' joke: Robert Easton has a small role as a hopelessly hick-sounding actor named "Dusty Acres" who's been cast to play a "James Bond with heart;" John Gielgud is supposed to teach him to speak with a convincing British accent, but Dusty's just not up to the task. The joke is that Easton was known as the "Henry Higgins of Hollywood, " a master of dialects, and frequently coached other actors.
--Obscure joke (really obscure): The line is "And this is Colonel Bott, one of our flyboys." Ever heard of the Bot Fly?
--Random observation: Look for Jamie Farr (Corporal Klinger in M*A*S*H) in a non-speaking part. He makes a brief appearance as a waiter who, among other things, switches a portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson for Queen Elizabeth at an amusingly appropriate moment.