Plot: What’s it about?
Warner Bros has recently been releasing a line of films on Blu-Ray under the umbrella of the Archive Collection. They have committed themselves to releasing rare films every week on Tuesday, and I appreciate them for taking this approach to film preservation. Their approach been exceptional in the sense that it has been incredibly eclectic thus far: Sam Peckinpah Westerns, 1950s SciEnce Fiction, 1960s Musicals, and under appreciated films from every decade. I am a big fan of their work and was excited to get to sit down to watch the To y Richardson film The Loved Ones.
Based upon a novel by Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One was billed as a comedy “to offend everyone!” Obviously, time has flown by and now this film would probably raise a couple eyebrows but I can’t see anybody finding it offensive after my entire generation watched Jason Biggs hump a pastry. That said, it is one of the strangest premises for a comedy imaginable. The idea of the film was to satirize the American funeral service industry. The lead character of the film is Dennis Barlow (American actor David Morse), a poetic British young man arriving in Los Angeles for the first time. His uncle Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud) has been in the film industry for years and has been working on training a yokel actor to sound British for a super-producer while also working on set paintings. When things don’t work out for Sir Francis, he promptly hangs himself. David feels pressure to give him a proper burial so he goes to a Los Angeles cemetery named Whispering Pines. Whispering Pines is more than a cemetery, it is a cult-like place where the staff rely on their leader Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathon Winters) for guidance as to how to live their life. David meets the beautiful Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjanette Comer) there and is quickly smitten. Unfortunately, she is under the spell of the Reverend’s policies and a guru to whom she writes letters. David, in an attempt to woo her, begins to recite poetry and claim it as his own. He also takes a job working for Henry Glenworthy (also Jonathon Winters) -the reverend’s brother – at an animal cemetery.
There is actually a lot more to the plot, but there are so many surprising and strange things to enjoy about this film, that I would rather people experience it for themselves. There are exceptional performances at every turn, with particularly enjoyable performances by Jonathon Winters, Anjanette Comer, John Gielgud, and Rod Steiger. This film is probably one of the most bizarre comedies I have ever seen, but it should come as no surprise when the authors of the film are Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove) and novelist Christopher Isherwood. The film’s cinematography is by the incomparable Haskell Wexler who was one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. He also was one of the producers of the film. Tony Richardson chose to direct this film directly after winning numerous Academy Awards for Tom Jones. What a ballsy move! There are also some great cameos from actors like Milton Berle, Paul Williams, and James Coburn.
The Loved One will definitely not make it onto everybody’s Top Ten list, but I really enjoyed this dark madcap comedy. I enjoyed the satirical take on everything from American obesity, mad consumerism, showbiz, religiosity, and funeral parlors. It does not get much stranger than this, folks!
Video: How’s it look?
Warner Bros. did a fantastic job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration in gorgeous Black and White. It is absolutely crystal clear. I love Haskell Wexler’s cinematography and this new transfer really pops. Fans of the film should be very pleased with the meticulous attention to detail that this transfer has been given. Clarity and fine detail are perfect. Warner is putting up an excellent battle against both Sony and Criterion for who can put out the sharpest film transfers. This is yet another great example of the solid job that Warner Bros. are doing on their archival releases.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The included DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track sounds surprisingly good. As a mono mix front speakers are used for the entire mix. Clarity is solid. I did not detect any dropouts or overbearing hiss. This is not the most robust mix imaginable, but the score does benefit from the mix. Solid work. I will warn that this film does suffer from whispering and then loud noises frequently, so have a remote handy.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Trying to Offend Everyone – This is a good archival feature that has interviews with the late great Haskell Wexler, and actors David Morse, Paul Williams, and Anjanette Comer. I really enjoyed this piece.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
The Loved One is a crazy film. It would take some nerve to make it today and must have taken real resolve to have made it back then. There is a lot to like here with a screenplay by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, cinematography by Haskell Wexler, and direction by Tony Richardson. They were really trying to shake it up with this one, and while it doesn’t work perfectly, I really enjoyed it. Technical specs are incredible, and the supplemental package is brief but informative.