Evelyn Waugh purists may bristle at the liberties taken in translated his macabre and morbidly amusing novel to the screen (sending corpses into space, indeed!), but if The Loved One varies from the novel in both plot and tone, it still shares the same blackly comic view of humanity. While Waugh was subdued and subtle in his depiction of the mortuary industry, director Tony Richardson and writers Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood are much blunter and more obvious; indeed, at times there's a positively maniacal glee to the proceedings. But this ultimately works to the film's advantage, and if parts of the film are a bit much, on the whole the satire is presented to extremely good advantage. Even when the proceedings veer wildly off course, as they do on several occasions, the tangents are worth the ride. Viewers should be warned, of course, that The Loved One is not a very nice film. Those whose sensitivities are easily damaged should definitely look elsewhere (indeed, the film was advertised as having something to offend everyone), and a somewhat strong stomach is needed for a few moments. Some may argue as well that a strong stomach is needed to withstand Robert Morse, who is miscast in the pivotal role. It doesn't help that Morse is hopelessly American in a role that is written for a Brit, but Morse's unsuccessful struggle to find the character is more the problem. Fortunately, the rest of the cast, from the mordant John Gielgud to the creepy Rod Steiger to the deliciously arrogant Robert Morley, more than make up for Morse's shortcomings. A bit helter-skelter in places and definitely not for all people, The Loved One will nonetheless delight those who appreciate their comedies black and enjoy the skewering of sacred cows.
by Craig Butler review