Based on Evelyn Waugh's tighter and nearly perfect novel about Hollywood, the British colony there and the capitalistic approach to death, "The Loved One" is full of vinegar, bile, pique and nerve, which is a rare thing from Hollywood. Actors who were often asked to do little get a chance to play dark cogs in the wheels of the industries of entertainment and undertaking here: particularly Tab Hunter as the guide on a mortuary tour and Liberace as a coffin salesman, absolute perfection. Jonathan Winters gets his best role in film as twin brothers, one of whom would be God if it weren't a step down. John Gielgud gives a priceless performance, even after he is dead. Robert Morse is slightly miscast as the English Candide, mostly because he doesn't master the accent. Rod Steiger gives his most bizarre performance looking eerily like he did late in life, sans the blonde toupee. Even Milton Berle is really good, playing it completely straight for once. The lunatic idea at the end - shooting coffins into space - was actually floated during the Reagan administration, which this film foreshadows in very strange ways. The message at the end - move to England - was prescient. Perhaps this is the best film to capture the absurdities of California. If you are free of any sense of irony, you'll hate this.
Story from friend who worked on it: Gielgud was shooting his little monologue, a parody of the "This sceptered isle" speech, and a crew member directly in his line of sight thoughtfully picked his nose throughout. Gielgud finished the take, paused so it could be cut, then said, "Dear boy, when the knuckles of your finger reach the bridge of your nose, wave."