“The motion picture with something to offend everyone,” as the ads promised, turns 50 with a special anniversary screening of Evelyn Waugh’s blistering satire of the American funeral industry. He was inspired to tell the tale of a British expatriate working at a pet cemetery during a Hollywood trip in which he attended a Forest Lawn funeral. British director Tony Richardson took on the project after scoring a huge hit with Tom Jones (1963), working with writers Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood to add subplots that reveal his own view of American life. Then he assembled an eclectic cast led by Robert Morse as the young Englishman, Rod Steiger as the head embalmer at the fictional Whispering Glades, Anjanette Comer as the beautiful mortician both love, Jonathan Winters, in a double role, as the head of Whispering Glades and the pet cemetery, Liberace as a coffin salesman, Tab Hunter as a tour guide and a 25-year-old Paul Williams as a child who discovers how to shoot the dead into orbit. That was a bit much for audiences, critics and industry members in 1965. At one advance screening, studio executives walked out in disgust, much to Richardson’s delight. Over the past half century, the film has built a devoted following drawn to its irreverent humor and offbeat characterizations.
(d. Tony Richardson, 122m, 35mm)
In attendance: Robert Morse