The distinctive voices of scripter Terry Southern (fresh off DR. STRANGELOVE/’64) and Tony Richardson (just Oscar’d® for helming TOM JONES/’63) are hard to miss in this adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s poison-pen satire to all things So. Cal. But with fish-in-a-barrel targets like OTT Hollywood cemeteries & the shifting sands of movie studio politics, their coarse efforts come off as hopelessly overcooked. Even with an impressively starry cast showing up for a scene or two (click on the poster to get the names), drawn by the filmmakers’ trendsetting hits, actual laughs are few & far between. John Gielgud, as a corpse, and Rod Steiger, as his embalmer, manage the only sustained piece of comedy in here, while Robert Morse is saddled with trying out a series of failed British accents and Jonathan Winters, in two roles, flubs his shot at starting a Stateside Peter Sellers franchise. Haskell Wexler’s b&w cinematography finds a soft, buttery look, but too often settles for ‘funny’ angles & fish-eye lenses, doing its part at conveying the film’s largely laughless results.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Few of director Frank Tashlin’s digs at American mores & culture in the ‘50s measure up to their high critical reps, but at his best, in collaboration with playwright George Axelrod on WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER/’57, they got a lot right that this film gets wrong.