The Loved One
Reviewed by Steve Uhler, Fri., July 7, 2006
THE LOVED ONE
Warner Home Video, $19.98
"He's just trying to exploit me," groused Lenny Bruce in 1964, declining an offer proffered by fellow provocateur Terry Southern to take on a role in the maverick screenwriter's latest project and thus missing out on one of the great casting coups in pop-cinema history. As it was, The Loved One managed to fail well enough without dirty Lenny, but not for lack of trying. Billed on its release in 1965 as "the motion picture with something to offend everyone," The Loved One's creative pedigree was impressively outré: Directed by then-red-hot wunderkind Tony Richardson (fresh from the heady success of Tom Jones), co-written by Southern (coming off of Dr. Strangelove) and Christopher Isherwood, and photographed and produced by Haskell Wexler. The film also boasted a Luby's Cafeteria cast of eclectic players from Liberace to James Coburn to John Gielgud to Rod Steiger. The Loved One strained at the proverbial bit to go over the top in a concerted attempt to both attract and repel audiences, and it certainly succeeded with the latter. Southern's acerbic screenplay fired indiscriminate rounds of satirical buckshot into the cultural landscape, taking aim at religion, sex, consumerism, Hollywood, death, and anything else the filmmakers could set their jaded sights on. The film's sophomoric barbs might have occasionally stretched to offend, but when The Loved One misfired, it erred on the dark side, one of the more endearing traits of edgy, pessimistic Sixties cinema. Landing with a deadening thud at the box office, the film disappeared from the cultural radar as quickly as Vaughn Meader. Within seven years, Divine had eaten dog shit on camera, and all bets for the Bad Taste Award were off. But there was something regally perverse and stately about The Loved One that made it linger in the memory long after its more plebeian contemporaries had faded. Was it Steiger's rouged embalmer, Mr. Joyboy ("Mama's little Joyboy loves lobster, lobster ... "), or the discomfiting sight of the cherubic Jonathan Winters putting a pitchfork into a canine carcass and nonchalantly tossing it into the refrigerator next to his bologna sandwich? No matter: 40 years down the line, The Loved One still carries a pungent and perverse perfume as bracing as fresh formaldehyde, laced with darkness, death, and decay. This DVD offers a pristine transfer, showcasing Wexler's evocatively pop-gothic black-and-white photography. An obligatory featurette, "Trying to Offend Everyone," offers the appropriately bizarre trick of bringing back recently deceased star Robert Morse for a few insightful comments on filming, but the great Winters is conspicuous in his absence. Now there's an audio commentary I'd pay to hear.