The Loved One (Tony Richardson / U.S., 1965):

The corpse's laughter, the mortician's art. "The city is of night, perchance of death," proclaims the poet on his way to Hollywood: "It was either Los Angeles or Calcutta, so I thought, you know, what the hell?" Robert Morse as the "artificial insemination donor" from England is given Paul McCartney's moptop and Terry-Thomas' gap-tooth, and arrives to Haskell Wexler's ornate-sterile views of American life in the '60s. Sir John Gielgud's look of noble mortification as he's ushered out of Roddy McDowall's office is enough to sum up British knighthood whoring itself out for Southern California, this is payback time. (The Evelyn Waugh adaptation Bu˝uel mentions in his autobiography would have been an incalculably greater film, yet how apt it is to have this comprehensive depredation conducted with Tony Richardson's sledgehammers.) Morse's tour of false idols leads him to the funeral Shangri-La, where the heroine (Anjanette Comer) is seduced with pilfered poetry and aesthetic morbidity; Milton Berle and Margaret Leighton are the "well-adjusted American couple," the oracular Hindu guru is really Lionel Stander chewing on a cigar, the casket display is manned by Liberace. Terry Southern's "prevert" note from Dr. Strangelove is adduced and dilated with Christopher Isherwood's support -- the missiles now are part of an air force mission precipitated by whiz-kid snottery and clinched with an orgy amid coffins. The epicene glee of Rod Steiger's Mr. Joyboy is just one entry in a bravura sick-humor gallery that also includes Jonathan Winters' magisterial rendition of the twin visages of modern hucksterism (half evangelist, half studio toad). Society is a perfumed garden with a false bottom hiding a dead rat, Comer is that "certain kind of uniquely American girl" Southern once rhapsodized about, "full of compassion" yet ready to find lyricism in suicidal embalmment. Richardson surveys American venality and parades it, it was up to George Axelrod to find its beauty in Lord Love a Duck. With Dana Andrews, James Coburn, Tab Hunter, Robert Morley, and Paul Williams. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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