HOW ON EARTH anybody
could see a film in Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One has been my exclamation ever since the film was announced. The first of his very slim volumes, the finely pointed satire of the American funeral parlour and mortician cult was never Waugh's most lovable work, brilliant though it was.
As a movie, The Loved One ("X", Empire) only spasmodically evokes the mood of the original, unforgettable long after details have become blurred.
The producers have evidently taken pains to try to do right by Waugh. The fashionable Tony Richardson was appointed to direct it. The screenplay was made by Christopher Isherwood and Tony Sothern.
They have recreated the fabulous Whispering Glades cemetery, the funeral parlour and some of Waugh's more outrageous creations such as Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) the embalmer and Miss Thanetogenos (Anjanette Cover) his assistant.
By a stroke of inspiration Sir John Gielgud was persuaded to play Sir Francis H i nsle y, the aristocratic English art director spending his dying days and death in Hollywood. Even Ralph Morse, the British actor chosen to play Sir Francis' nephew as a sort of Gulliver in these macabre travels, was a clever bit of casting.
If this team had applied themselves to the style and form of the book, above all its size and shape, they might have succeeded if complete success in this strange assignment were possible. So in the early stages of the film, as long indeed as Sir Francis is alive, or even a most eloquent corpse in the funeral parlour, the authentic touch of macabre exhilaration, outraged and outraging taste, is captured.
Thereafter it is only spasmodic, the cruel but still delicate satire of the awful, glossy sentimentalities of the cult being smothered by the whole paraphernalia of a major Hollywood attempt to bring the grotesque vision to celluloid life-perhaps also halfconsciously to clothe some more present complexes of guilt and fear in face of death in the embalmist's waxen flesh.
There are still spasms of caricature that are funny, particularly in Rod Steiger's Mr.
Joyboy, conveying his admiration for Miss Thanetogenos in terms of the seraphically smiling faces he passes on for her cosmetic finish.
' The character of Mr. Joyboy's Mum (he is an extreme case of Mother's Boy) is too revoltingly burlesqued, however. The film spreads larger and looser until the whole conception of the neat stilettosatire is overblown to the point of boredom.
In the latter stages a whole new instalment of science-fiction is begun, with the corpses taking off into orbit. But they have very little to do with the original fantasy, and nothing in the film answers the query why anybody thought this a suitable subject for a movie.
A novel by Andre Maurois in the twenties comes to the screen as Climates of Love ("A", Continentale) to provide yet another text on literary adaptation into cinema. I never read the book, but the film is the slow, well-observed, wellacted account of the failures in marriage of a fairly ordinary selfish man.
Ph ilipp e's (Jean-Pierre Marielle) first marriage to Odile (Marina Vlady), whom he adores, comes to grief through his possessiveness and in the end not altogether unjustified suspicions; the second through the even better-founded suspicions and jealousy of the woman he marries (Emmanuele Riva). Odile's friend Misa (Alexandra Stewart) who perhaps really loves Philippe, and he her, supplies a note of renunciation.
It seems to be the story of many a modern marriage which turns to divorce. There is no great point or new lesson to be drawn from this one. It can be watched with pleasure for the moderation, quiet elegance and intelligence of the telling (the director's name, Stellio Lorenzi, is new to me) and with considerable conviction that these are real people.
Hope fades slowly that there must emerge some comment from their story, which moves in the literary manner from page to page, creating a suspicion that missing passages have not been digested or translated into film movement.
By the end of the slow, gentle. chronicle I felt the unsatisfactory sum of so many qualities might be the result of the novel's age. For it gives the strangely out-of-date version of family life (especially unreal in France) which belongs to the pre-war period of a decade or so when films were always made about couples without children.
Freda Bruce Lockhart