Strange goings-on among the dead and beautiful
The story follows Dennis Barlow (Robert Morse), an Englishman who's come to America to seek his fortune. An aspiring poet, he doesn't have any skills, but he does have a relative in Sir Francis Hinsley (Sir John Gielgud), who works for a Hollywood movie studio. Sir Francis introduces him to the British community in Hollywood, and finds he doesn't quite fit in, as despite having just arrived from England, he's not English enough for theexpatriates.
Sir Francis' untimely end brings Dennis in contact with the staff of Whispering Glades, the Disneyland of cemeteries. Led by The Blessed Reverend (Jonathan Winters) and head embalmer Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger), the cemetery helps "the waiting ones" inter their "loved ones." There's one staffer that catches Dennis's eye, and that's Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjanette Comer), a naive young cosmetologist who beautifies the dead and lives her life according to the advice of a newspaper columnist. Dennis woos her with poetry he didn't write, but her affection is for Joyboy, who crafts the smiles of the dead.
The underlying plot, a love triangle involving hidden identities, is rather pedestrian, but the rest of the film is anything but. Joyboy is one of the most disturbing characters seen on celluloid, and is deserving of a film all to himself, while a plan to launch corpses into space tomaximize profits drives the film to its conclusion. The subplots are nearly episodic, involving strippers, hookers in caskets and the burial of animals, and they serve to poke further fun at American values, misplaced or otherwise. The ending of the film wraps all of this up logistically, but whether it is satisfying is another story all together. Honestly, it would be hard for any ending to live up to the expectations built by watching an insane woman rip apart a whole pig in her bed.
Director Tony Richardson (Oscar winner for Tom Jones) did a good job of bringing the story together with a definite '60s sensibility, and writers Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove) and Christopher Isherwood gave him plenty to work with. The influence of Dr. Strangelove), which came out the year before, is very obvious, and this film exists as a spiritual offspring. It doesn't hit the same type of heights as Strangelove, but the feel is there enough to be of interest to that film's audience.
The cast, which also includes James Coburn, Milton Burle and Roddy McDowall, is quite good, and Steiger is fascinatingly mad as Joyboy, but it's Gielgud gives perhaps the best performance of the film, establishing a sense of sad reality, before the film ascends into madness. Jonathan Winters is enjoyable in a dual role, along with Comer, who's acting is something of a mix of Madeline Kahn and Julie Hagerty. She's fantastic as the story's true victim, portraying a character lost in a world she doesn't really deserve to suffer through.
The audio is a mono mix that's delivered in a Dolby Digital 1.0 track. The center channel presents very clean dialogue, with a well-mixed score and good sound effects. Sound is played with a bit in the film, to create certain effects, and the audio makes it work correctly.
The other extra is the film's theatrical trailer, which is your standard wacky '60s trailer, the kind that are always fun to look back on. It's in pretty decent shape, and is a good artifact to have included.
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