Young Englishman Dennis travels to Los Angeles on a whim, boards with his Hollywood uncle, and gets a job at an upscale funeral home for pets.
I watched this one because it features James Coburn. His part amounts to an early cameo as an immigration officer suspicious of Dennis’s Beatles haircut.
The film plays as heightened satire ala Dr. Strangelove. The early scenes with Roddy McDowell as a Hollywood studio exec elicited some smirks, but the film hits its stride when Dennis arrives at Whispering Glades, a Hollywood funeral home.
He’s shown into a reception area where an attractive hostess inquires about his deceased loved one.
DENNIS: He was my uncle.
WHISPERING GLADES HOSTESS: In that case, he must have been Caucasian.
DENNIS: Certainly not! He was English.
She then directs Dennis to a “counselor” to review his options. Liberace shines in the role, hawking caskets, and—in a bit that had me laughing aloud—explaining the eternal flame options of “perpetual eternal” or “standard eternal.”
Next, Dennis tours of the grounds. The hostess points to a section holding the entire missionary staff of a local congregation, who were all massacred.
DENNIS (with disbelief): All massacred?
HOSTESS: Yes, in different parts of the world. Over the years. By the regional savages there…
And another section for loved ones “dedicated to the sea”, to include “long distance swimmers, Fourth of July boating enthusiasts, admirals…”
The film gets even more absurd when it introduces Rod Steiger’s prissy embalmer, Mr. Joyboy. He and Dennis both pursue cosmetician Aimee. Steiger invites her to his home for dinner, where, to her horror, she realizes he’s subservient to his obese mother. These scenes border on horror, painting Joyboy as an inciting incident away from serial killer.
From here, the film loses its way. The satire remains, focusing on corporate exec Jonathan Winters’s plan to launch corpses into space, but aside from a memorable orgy sequence including a laugh-out-loud moment from Liberace, the laughs fizzle. Instead, the focus pivots to the relationship between Dennis and Aimée. The pair have no chemistry and it’s not clear what he sees in her. After the prior absurdity, I couldn’t invest in these narrative stakes, rendering the third act a disappointment.