If you like your comedies pitch black, "The Loved One" is most definitely for you. It is perhaps the darkest film ever made.
Made in the mid-'60s, it takes a bite out of many topics: the film industry, Los Angeles, British expatriates, the funeral business, even the space program. But it doesn't stop there. Once it has taken its bite, it chews.
The film is based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh and stars Robert Morse (of "How to Succeed in Business . . . " and now "Tru") as Dennis Barlow, a young Briton who wins a trip to Los Angeles. Being a poet, he is naturally broke and must stay with his uncle (John Gielgud), who is an artist employed by a Hollywood studio.
When the uncle abruptly loses his job and commits suicide, Barlow must make the funeral arrangements. Which brings him to Whispering Glades--a pretentious and nightmarish funeral parlor/cemetery that elevates the death business to grandiose proportions.
The uncle gets a resting place, and Dennis romances one of the parlor's cosmeticians in addition to finding work at The Happy Hunting Grounds--a pet cemetery and silent partner of Whispering Glades.
"The Loved One" also stars Rod Steiger as a mortician and Jonathan Winters in a dual role as the Blessed Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy, owner of Whispering Glades, and his brother Henry, manager of the pet cemetery. As always, Winters is wonderful.
And if these aren't enough stars for you, this film was one of the first to utilize the cameo to its fullest potential. A brief list includes Liberace, James Coburn, Milton Berle, Roddy McDowall, Tab Hunter, Robert Morley, Paul Williams and sports announcer Chick Hearn.
Liberace's brief appearance as a casket salesman is frighteningly realistic and brutally funny. His caskets are "not just waterproof, not just moisture proof . . . but dampness proof!"
Also, Ayllene Gibbons' performance as Rod Steiger's incredibly overweight mother is a memory that will long stay with you. She watches television strictly for the food commercials.
And Williams makes a memorable young Gunther--forerunner of our modern-day computer whiz kids. It's the arrival of bespectacled Gunther and his rockets that allow the Blessed Reverend to begin launching dead bodies into orbit.
The blackest of black comedies. But one you'll be glad you rented.
"The Loved One" (1965), directed by Tony Richardson. 122 minutes. Not rated.