Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

'60s comedy: The Loved One / Lord Love A Duck

Finally, Tony Richardsons's THE LOVED ONE - MGM's 1965 comedy "with something to offend everyone" that I never caught until now and I saw it on a Spanish dvd with Spanish sub-titles I could not remove. Fascinating stuff though - it may have opened briefly here in London at the time (it was reviewed in "Films & Filming" magazine) and then shoved out on release for a week,. but I somehow never saw it and it has never surfaced since as it seems MGM either forgot about it or locked it away.

Newly arrived in Hollywood from England, Dennis Barlow finds he has to arrange his uncle's interment at the highly-organised and very profitable Whispering Glades funeral parlour. His fancy is caught by one of their cosmeticians, Aimee Thanatogenos. But he has three problems - the strict rules of owner Blessed Reverand Glenworthy, the rivalry of embalmer Mr Joyboy, and the shame of now working himself at The Happy Hunting Ground pets' memorial home.

Richardson after the "kitchen sink" dramatics of LOOK BACK IN ANGER, A TASTE OF HONEY, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER had that enormous success with TOM JONES in 1963 which (as per my previous post on him - that book on the Redgraves, Trash label, and the "Hollywood UK" tv series, TV label) gave him carte blanche for his next films. THE LOVED ONE has an impeccible pedigree: a Martin Ransohoff production, from Evelyn Waugh's novel satirising the American way of death, scripted by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood. Richardson, who despite being married to Vanessa Redgrave, was also gay or bi, juices it up with a great cast of cameos:
James Coburn, Roddy McDowell, Margaret Leighton, Dana Andrews, Tab Hunter as tour guide, Liberace as a casket salesman. We follow naive Englishman Robert Morse arriving in L A and staying with his actor uncle, John Gielgud (quietly hilarious), who is part of the English colony. We also get Robert Morley, Jonathan Winters in 2 roles and Rod Steiger does another outrageous turn as chief embalmer Mr Joyboy, looking after his grotesque elderly mother. Anjanette Comer is startlingly odd as the love intererst, the first lady embalmer with her unfinished home in 'the slide area'. If you are disturbed or offended by the funeral business, death in general, dead pets, or slightly veiled hints at necrophilia then you might want to give this one a miss. It is though a fascinating oddity now, and probably ahead of its time, as black comedy is much more acceptable now.

LORD LOVE A DUCK, 1966 - where writer George Axelrod treats one social sacred cow after another with amused disdain, skewering religion, motherhood, education, and matrimony, in gleaming monochrome images. Axelrod of course wrote plays like THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH and WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER, as well as scripting THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS, HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE among others, LORD LOVE A DUCK is his first as  director. Another under-rated '60s comedy then, this 1966 production was treated as a second feature here in the UK and also vanished without trace. I remember "Sight & Sound" raving about it though, particularly that scene where Tuesday Weld gets her father to buy her all those cashmere sweaters, its dizzylingly funny as she recites the names of the colours: 'Peach Put-On', 'Periwinkle Pussycat' etc, its a scene most actresses of her era just could not carry off . The following commentators describe it much better than I can:

Andrew Sarris in "The Village Voice" said:
"Tuesday Weld is Nabokov’s grown-up nymphet come to life in a cavalcade of cashmere sweaters, and closer to Nabokov’s original conception that Sue Lyon could ever be".

John Landis
"George Axelrod’s unclassifiable satire is one of the oddest Hollywood movies, which over the years has engendered passionate support and derision. For some it’s an incisively bizarre portrait of sixties America, for others it’s a sloppily made, undisciplined mess (with more boom mikes visible in full frame than even Play It Again Sam). However, nothing can dim the luster of the incredibly perverse scene where Tuesday Weld’s horny dad (Max Showalter) practically ejaculates while watching his sexy daughter try on sweaters."

Geoff Andrew (London):
"Axelrod’s patchy but often brilliant first attempt at direction: a kooky fantasy, very funny in its satire of contemporary teen morals and mores. McDowall plays a high school student of enormous IQ and fabulous powers, which he exercises in order to grant a pretty co-ed (Weld) her every heart’s desire, starting with the thirteen cashmere sweaters she requires to join an exclusive sorority, and ending with a husband whom he obligingly murders to leave her free to realise her true dream of movie stardom. Whereupon, realising he did it all for love, he ends up in the booby-hatch, happily dictating his memoirs. Taking in some delicious side-swipes at the ‘Beach Blanket’ cycle, Axelrod reveals much the same penchant (and talent) for cartoon-style sight gags as Tashlin, and coaxes a marvellous trio of variations on the American female from Tuesday Weld, Lola Albright and Ruth Gordon. Daniel Fapp’s stunningly cool, clear monochrome camerawork is also a distinct plus."
and Pauline Kael:
"This satire on teenage culture, modern education, psychoanalysis, and what have you was the best American comedy of its year, and yet it’s mostly terrible. The picture is bright and inventive, but it’s also a hate letter to America that selects the easiest, most grotesque targets and keeps screaming at us to enjoy how funny-awful everything is. Finally we’re preached at for our tiny minds and our family spray deodorants. Tuesday Weld has a wonderful blank, childlike quality as a Los Angeles high-school student who lusts after cashmere sweaters and wants everybody to love her. The director, George Axelrod, drew upon the novel Candy, which he beat to the movie post, as well as WHAT’S NEW, PUSSYCAT? and the Richard Lester movies; there is eating à la TOM JONES and there are other tidbits from all over, even from NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. Roddy McDowall plays a genie; Lola Albright is spectacularly effective as Tuesday’s cocktail-waitress mother; and Ruth Gordon does her special brand of dementia."

Quite a zany mid-60s double feature then - Tuesday is delightful and Lola Albright and Ruth Gordon are indeed formidable - and Martin West (above) as Tuesday's husband Roddy keeps trying to bump off, is eye-catching too. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. There were always people who never wanted to take Tuesday Weld seriously. (Pauline Kael wrote: "If you talk about her ability, people think you're kidding.") It's true that she was in a lot of dross (I'LL TAKE SWEDEN, SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE) but still, when she was good... there was a BIG difference between Tuesday Weld and the other blonde teenagers (Sandra Dee, Carol Lynley). In RALLY ROUND THE FLAG BOYS she shows a comic intensity which is startling, and in THE FIVE PENNIES she's very touching. She was honing her talent on television, her comic edge on DOBIE GILLIS and her dramatic skills on various TV dramas (ROUTE 66, BUS STOP).

    She really came into her own with SOLDIER IN THE RAIN (an absolutely brilliant performance, and shows why Kubrick immediately thought of her for LOLITA). But it's in LORD LOVE A DUCK where she's at her best. She does startling things in that movie (the cashmere sweater-orgasm number is phenomenal) and the turn-on-a-dime intensity that floods from her in the scene when she finds out her mother has died is terrific.

    But in terms of people taking her seriously: when LORD LOVE A DUCK was shown at the Berlin Film Festival, there seemed to be no doubt that she would win the Silver Bear for Best Actress. That was in 1966, and Roman Polanski was there with CUL-DE-SAC (which won the Golden Bear for Best Film). He met Weld, and was delighted with her, so much so that he thought of her for ROSEMARY'S BABY (she refused). But what happened was: when it came time for the jury to vote, the one American on the jury refused to allow Tuesday Weld to win. (I don't know who that person was, but i know there was one American on the jury.) There were two compromises that were proposed: that the three lead actresses of LORD LOVE A DUCK be given a joint award (this happened with THE HOURS, when the award was given to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman), but that would have meant that Tuesday Weld would still get an award (along with Lola Albright and Ruth Gordon). So the alternative which was agreed upon was that the award be given to Lola Albright (who is spectacular). But the American juror made it seem as if the honor of the US was at stake if Tuesday Weld won an award!

    And that's too often how people reacted to her. Not even Sandra Dee ever got so much animosity.

    - Daryl Chin.