Power to the adapters

Anthology shines spotlight on ‘brutally neglected’ screenwriters

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  You know you’ve become thoroughly immersed in the bizarre when Jonathan Winters — whether appearing as Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy or his film exec brother — is the most subtle and grounded presence on the screen.

Brimming with cold war paranoia, cults of both personality and nationality, religious fervor and space race fever, 1965’s black comedy “The Loved One” is as dark and dreadful a piece of social satire as anything that would soon be conjured up by the likes of John Waters, Tim Burton and David Lynch.

The happenstance winner of an airplane ticket to Los Angeles, English lad Dennis Barlow (played mostly straight by a weary, sunken-eyed Robert Morse) reconnects with his studio employee uncle (Sir John Gielgud) — whose unexpected suicide embarrasses an insular group of expat Brits determined to give the old chap a dignified sendoff.

So Barlow is assigned the task of arranging burial at Whispering Glades — Reverend Glenworthy’s statue and waterfall-filled afterlife wonderland. There, aspiring poet Barlow falls hard for naive cosmetician Aimée Thanatogenos (Anjanette Comer) — who aspires to become the “First Lady Embalmer of Whispering Glades” (when she’s not dreamily manning a swing which overhangs her condemned clifftop home).

That’s just for starters. The eccentric cast (whose major and minor players include Milton Berle, James Coburn, Tab Hunter, Liberace, Roddy McDowall and Rod Steiger) is soon embroiled in a scheme to disintern the loved ones and shoot them into space, so the cemetery (which is filling up) can be reimagined as a brave new retirement community.

“We’re a nation on the move,” declares the Reverend. “Death…death has become a middle class business. There’s no future in it. Soon, there shall rise from these grounds a self-contained city of glass and alloy for our senior citizens.”

Written by Terry Southern, the film’s entire run time is peppered with dialogue that rivals the black and white cinematography in its precision and depth. In the same way Miss Thanatogenos dotes on embalmed corpses, expert manipulation of language is the reason Anthology Film Archives will be screening director Tony Richardson’s film of Southern’s screenplay of Evelyn Waugh’s novel.

“The Loved One” is featured in “From the Pen of” — which, according to the easily obsessed folks at Anthology, “is devoted to highlighting screenwriters. This installment of our ongoing series is highlighting the screenwriting work of writers best known as novelists. All these films are different, but unified by the fact that the screenwriter of the film was best known as a novelist.”

Other series highlights include work by Donald Westlake, Elmore Leonard, Don Carpenter, Truman Capote, Richard Matheson and Joan Didion.

Sure, you could Google all of the above and be sufficiently impressed…but if you’re going to spend that much time staring at a screen, why not do it in a darkened room amidst the company of other cine-lit types?

The Loved One
1965
Run time: 122 minutes
Screenplay by Terry Southern
Based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh
Directed by Tony Richardson
Cinematography by Haskell Wexler

Mon., Sept. 10 at 8:45pm; Sat., Sept. 15 at 2:15pm; Sun., Sept. 16 at 8:30pm
At Anthology Film Archives
(32 Second Ave. at 2nd St.)
Tickets: $10, $8 for students/seniors/children, visit the box office
For info, call 212-505-5181 or visit anthologyfilmarchives.org

 

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