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The Loved One (1965)

By Andy Markowitz | Posted

It may no longer be "the motion picture with something to offend everyone," as The Loved One was once billed, but the decades haven't dulled the sharpness of this broad, black burlesque on the American way of death. Robert Morse plays Dennis Barlow, a young Brit come to Los Angeles to visit his uncle (John Gielgud), who promptly hangs himself. Left to make the "arrangements," Dennis finds himself at Whispering Glades, a lush funeral farm run by the beloved Blessed Reverend (Jonathan Winters, tempering his usual mania to do the best actual acting of his career); the young man falls for an ethereal corpse cosmetician, Miss Thanatogenos (Anjanette Comer), for whose attentions he competes with mincing chief embalmer Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger, in a deliciously perverse turn). Freely adapted by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood from Evelyn Waugh's novel, The Loved One swings wildly but truly at the crass, creepy sanctimony of the death industry and how it reflects our crass, creepy, rapaciously consuming lives. The mix didn't play too well with mid-'60s audiences, but today's it's a hoot, rife with comic epiphanies and great guest shots, including Milton Berle as a harried husband with a dead dog on his hands, Roddy McDowell as a callow movie exec, and Liberace, drop-dead perfect as a casket salesman.

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