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The Loved One a mixed-up jumble of brilliant parts

The Loved One

Directed by Tony Richardson

Starring Robert Morse, Jonathan Winter, Rod Steiger, Anjanette Comer.

LSCClassics Friday.

10-250, 7:30 p.m.

By Stephen Brophy

There are several "loved ones" in Friday night's LSC Classic movie, and all of them are dead. "Loved one" is a euphemism for a corpse used by the various functionaries of an ostentatious cemetery in Los Angeles, ca. 1965. It was a cemetery dreamed up by Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited) after spending a few weeks in Hollywood. In his satirical novel on which this movie is based, Waugh depicts the peculiarities of the British community of actors and filmmakers living in this glitzy desert paradise.

Robert Morse plays the Candide-like poet who guides us on an odyssey through this strange land. He has come to La-La Land on a lark, hoping to live with his uncle and find some gainful employment. His uncle does take him in, but then loses his own job at a studio much like MGM (the distributors of The Loved One). By a surreal chain of circumstances, this leads our young poet to a job in a pet cemetery, loosely affiliated with the more massive mausoleum complex in which the loved ones take up their eternal residence.

This movie was advertised as having "something to offend everyone" when it was released in 1965. It has more than its share of gross and disgusting jokes about death, love, sex, capitalism, religion and poetry, but some of these seem tame by today's standards. Most of the characters are caricatures, wickedly drawn and uniformly well acted. Jonathan Winters plays a double role as the malevolently mysterious preacher who runs the cemetery and his hapless brother in charge of the disposal of dead pets. Rod Steiger delivers a truly memorable portrait of Mr. Joyboy, an embalmer with a lisp and mincing mannerisms who belies his coding by competing with our poet hero for the love of an innocent young beautician, played by Anjanette Comer.

Other actors who create small but juicy characters include Robert Morley as the leader of the expatriate British community, Lionel Stander as a phony guru, Liberace as a fey coffin salesman, Tab Hunter as a graveyard tour guide, James Coburn as a menacing customs official, and Milton Berle and Margaret Leighton as the hassled owners of a dead canine. And Ayllene Gibbons stands out among the lesser known actors as Mr. Joyboy's mother, who looks like she must weigh 800 pounds, becomes orgasmic in the presence of food, and knows by heart the schedule of TV food commercials.

Christopher Isherwood and Terry Southern received credit for the screenplay, but the novel had been through many hands before it was finally filmed. This gives the movie a choppy quality, and it ultimately seems to be a jumble of brilliant bits rather than a coherent work. Tony Richardson, father of Natasha and Joely, directed, having been lured to Hollywood after the international success of Tom Jones. The Loved One doesn't live up to the reputation of its predecessor, but it delivers enough laughs to be worth watching.