It's a mad, mad, madcap book adaptation
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 the expatriates.
An untimely end for Sir Francis' however brings Dennis into 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's cult-like staff 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 believes in only aesthetics (and the Reverend) 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 to maximize cemetery profits drives the film to its conclusion (an addition not found in the original book.) The subplots are somewhat episodic, involving drunk strippers, hookers in caskets and the burial of animals, and they serve to poke further fun at American values, misplaced or otherwise, even if they don't quite flow together well. The ending of the film wraps all of this up as logistically as possible, but whether it is satisfying is another story altogether. 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 an admirable job of attempting to bring the film's disparate (and, in the case of the space-age rocket subplot featuring Paul Williams, occasionally unnecessary) elements together with a classic look that gives way to a bit of ‘60s-era wackiness at times, and all-star writers Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove) and Christopher Isherwood gave him plenty (perhaps too much) to work with in padding out Waugh's efficient cark comedy. Southern's fingerprints are obvious, with plenty of similarities to Dr. Strangelove, thought it certainly doesn't hit the same type of heights. Despite being billed as "the motion picture with something to offend everyone", it's barely shocking a post-John Waters world, though the bleaker gags and surreal moments can still have some impact.
The cast, which includes cameos by James Coburn, Milton Berle, Roddy McDowall, Tab Hunter and a shockingly low-key Liberace, is quite good, led by Steiger's fascinatingly mad (and delightful) turn as Joyboy, far outshining Morse's hard-to-root-for hero. Gielgud gives perhaps the best performance of the film, establishing a sense of sad reality, before the film ascends into farce, whiler Jonathan Winters is enjoyable in dual roles (one well villainous), along with Comer, whose acting is something of a mix of Madeline Kahn and Julie Hagerty. She's something to to behold as the story's key victim, portraying an innocent adrift in a world she's ill-equipped to live in.
The audio is presented in a mono mix that's delivered in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Dialogue is clean and crisp, with a nice depth to it, while the score, which is key to several scenes, is nice and strong. There are no complaints about the audio on this release.
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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