Tony Richardson's The Loved One (1965)

Tony Richardson's version of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One (1965)

Author: The brother of the then better-known novelist Alec, Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) shot to fame in the 1930s with a string of acidic social satires - Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Scoop. The second world war, however, interrupted his literary output, before he re-established himself with Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945. It was a novel that, with its class nostalgia and anti-modern outlook, seemed out of step with the postwar mood. The Loved One was his next work of fiction, published in 1948 after a proposed Hollywood adaptation of Brideshead came to nothing.

Story: Dennis Barlow, a poet, throws in his post at Megalopolitan film studios for a job at a pet cemetery, The Happier Hunting Ground. His mentor, Sir Francis Hinsley, commits suicide after being fired from the same studio. Barlow arranges his burial at Whispering Glades, a vast funeral park, where he meets Aimée Thanatogenos (first name: "loved one", surname: "bringer of death"), a mortuary cosmetician, whom he woos by sending her poems culled from an anthology. Aimée is also being courted by Whispering Glades's head embalmer, Mr Joyboy. In the event, she feels let down by both, and commits suicide herself. Dennis helps Joyboy cover it up by cremating her in the Happier Hunting Ground's furnaces.

Like Christopher Isherwood's Prater Violet and Martin Amis's Money, The Loved One sprung from an English writer adrift in the machinations of the commercial film industry. But Waugh's interest was much wider, and The Loved One, though short, is a perfectly formed assault on the spiritual emptiness of postwar Los Angeles. In Barlow and Thanatogenos, Waugh explicitly refers to the Henry James contrast of "American innocence and European experience" - but it's European experience for which he reserves his admiration.

Film-maker: After emerging from the British Free Cinema movement in the late 1950s, Tony Richardson (1928-91) became a Hollywood phenomenon with an adaptation of Tom Jones that reflected the jaunty mood of a world loosening its corsets. The Loved One seemed to embody the satirical edge of the emergent counterculture. Haskell Wexler, then a tyro documentarist, was director of photography and, as Richardson records in his memoirs, used the film as his Hollwyood calling card - setting up elaborate lighting designs, much to Richardson's annoyance.

How book and film compare: Richardson invented an overarching plotline about a military-political conspiracy presumably to appeal to the anti-establishment mood of the 1960s. Barlow (Robert Morse) becomes an ingenu with a Beatle haircut, and characters such as Joyboy's mother, and the director of the funeral home, are turned into grotesques. Waugh hated what Richardson did to his book, as a blizzard of angry cables to producing studio MGM made clear.

Inspirations and influences: Dr Strangelove had been the landmark film of the year before, and by hiring its writer Terry Southern to co-write The Loved One, the makers were clearly hoping to import its biting, mordant satire. And in the figure of Barlow there's more than a hint of Hard Days Night-era Beatles - a film that was released in the US only six months after Strangelove.

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