By Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®
The Loved One debuted in 1965, two years after Jessica Mitford’s exposé book The American Way of Death rocked the funeral industry. Despite its black-and-white vintage, The Loved One satirizes the funeral business, including pet funerals, as well as the movie industry and the military-industrial complex. It shows funeral trends that have continued to this day.
Critics at the time skewered the movie, although others have come to regard it as a very funny comedy. Its tag line is “The motion picture with something to offend everyone.” It’s not terribly offensive by our current standards.
Sir Francis Hinsley (John Gielgud) hangs himself because he’s summarily laid off after 31 years of working for a Hollywood studio. He becomes “The Loved One” for whom nephew Dennis Barlow (played by a young Robert Morse) sets out to arrange a funeral. British ex-pat Sir Ambrose Ambercrombie (Robert Morley) directs Barlow to sell his uncle’s house to pay for a sufficiently impressive funeral.
At the Whispering Glades mortuary and cemetery, Barlow encounters discrimination against blacks and Jews before facing a huge array of choices to make in caskets, interment options and burial clothing (gleefully presented by Liberace – “Rayon chafes you know.”). He also gets a tour of the Whispering Glades cemetery grounds (Forest Lawn gets its close-up).
Barlow, an unemployed “poet” from England, is attracted to Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjanette Comer), a young lady who does funeral arrangements and make-up on the deceased at Whispering Glades. Once Uncle Francis is dispatched with a high level of pomp, Barlow pursues Thanatogenous, who is also pursued by co-worker Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger), an embalmer. He brings Miss Thanatogenous home to have dinner with him and his obese mother in a bizarre food orgy.
Barlow goes to work for a pet cemetery and cremation service. On his first call, he encounters a highly distraught dog owner (Margaret Leighton) and her husband (Milton Berle) who can’t wait to get rid of the carcass and go out to a dinner party.
Things just get weirder as The Loved One progresses. The story gets rather confusing toward the end. Unfortunately, most of the characters are unlikeable.
Terry Southern, known for satirical outrageous fiction, wrote the screenplay based on the Evelyn Waugh novel. Southern’s other screenplay credits include Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Easy Rider, Barbarella, and The Magic Christian.
These elements in The Loved One endure and provide lessons for today’s funeral consumer:
- Weddings and funerals are similar. The Whispering Glades chapel and minister do double duty. There’s a quick-change scene where a newly married couple is hustled out and the black crepe drops from the ceiling for Uncle Francis’ funeral. Some funeral homes and cemeteries offer their facilities for both life cycle events. Whether the event is a wedding or a funeral, plan ahead if you want to reduce stress and save money.
- There is always a mind-boggling array of choices to make. While casket rooms are disappearing from funeral homes, the array of caskets from which to choose, and sources to get them, have only proliferated. Shop around before someone dies to make an informed decision without pressure.
- Funerals are expensive. Barlow has to resort to selling his uncle’s Hollywood home to pay for a traditional funeral. How will your household manage to pay for a funeral with costs that can range from $8,000 to $20,000 and more?
- Pets are part of the family and their loss is keenly felt. People love their pets and often experience intense grief when they die. The pet cemetery and cremation operation in The Loved One showed less-than-respectful treatment of dead animals. As with funerals for humans, shop around before you need such services to ensure you work with an ethical provider.
The Loved One can be rented on DVD from Netflix and can be purchased (as available) on Amazon.com. This film is not rated.
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and hosts A Good Goodbye TV. She speaks to groups using clips from funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues and help start serious conversations. Her website is https://agoodgoodbye.com.