Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Loved One (1965)

You know, it's come to my attention that I frequently write about some pretty bad movies. So today I'm going to talk about a pretty good movie no one's seen. In fact, I had to approve a $250 deposit on my credit card to even rent it. It's a 1965 film directed by Tony Richardson, based on a story by Evelyn Waugh, and it's called The Loved One.

The story concerns a young Englishman in Hollywood who attempts to stay on in America by mooching off his uncle. Uncle John Gielgud (was he ever young??) is quickly out of the picture, and our young hero moves on through various adventures involving the funeral parlor and burial ground his uncle will be residing in.

What impressed me about this movie is the fact that the satire was still humorous to me, unlike many comedies of a more overt nature which age poorly. That isn't to say this film is at all subtle: there is an amazingly unsympathetic portrayal of a hugely overweight gluttonous woman who has memorized all the food-related television commercials and works herself up into an orgasmic frenzy over the fact that there's a new spot with an enormous crab. It's crass, obvious, and brilliant, but its shock value is effected more by our own political correctness than by mere effort to shock. The film also deals callously with morbid subjects such as the disposal of the deceased, dead dogs, and Paul Williams at 25 playing 13. Like De Palma's tampon-tossing shower scene in Carrie, some things are as funny as ever because no matter what the old timers say our society hasn't come to accept every perversion yet.

There is some waning of interest as the film progresses. It's pretty long and the plot gets pretty unfocused. There is some characterization that seems muddled; I'm not sure the protagonist is someone we're supposed to like or not, because we aren't made aware until at least halfway through the film that there's anything unlikable about him, by which time it's a little late to turn our backs and still enjoy his trials. Many of the scenes are brilliant on their own merits, however, and make up for the lack of focus. I'm upset that this movie is not available on either DVD or VHS, as it should be in much wider circulation. Anyone who enjoys halfway morbid, absurdist comedy should track it down.

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