Satires that aspire to tap into the cultural zeitgeist often age about as well as mayonnaise left out in the sun. But of three Swinging '60s satires recently released on DVD, only 1968's I Love You, Alice B. Toklas suffers greatly from the passage of time. The Peter Sellers vehicle explores the fantasy that a single toke or a roll in the hay with a groovy hippie chick is all it would take to transform scowling Richard Nixons into funky Allen Ginsbergs. In Toklas, Sellers expertly plays an uptight Jewish attorney who abandons his bourgeois existence to follow his bliss as an overgrown flower child. In its superior first hour, Toklas ratchets up his everyday aggravations to the level of a low-grade comic nightmare. The film's grasp on its neurotic Jewish milieu is solid, but its knowledge of the counterculture seems to have been gleaned entirely from a news report about kids tuning in, dropping out, and changing their names to Sunshine Daydream Moonflower. Peace and love are all well and good, the film kvetches, but who's going to do the dishes?
By contrast, The Loved One's counterculture credibility is secure thanks to the presence of such right-on cats as cinematographer Haskell Wexler, editor Hal Ashby, and screenwriters Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood. An all-star team on both sides of the camera helps bring to life Evelyn Waugh's acidic satire of death, American style. Robert Morse stars as an aimless British poet-wannabe who stumbles into the funeral business following his uncle's death. Director Tony Richardson places Waugh's gothic satire somewhere between Dr. Strangelove and Lord Love A Duck in its savagely surreal exploration of American greed reaching far beyond the limits of morality and mortality alike. In The Loved One, even the grave is subject to capitalism's savage demands.
Morse's weasely wordsmith is merely sleazy, but Sean Connery's self-absorbed poet in A Fine Madness is a monster of id and ego. An exact cross between Dylan Thomas and Mike Tyson would be a good approximation of Connery's brawling anti-hero, an agitated sociopath intent on fighting or fucking the entire world. Madness lacks sympathetic characters and a well-structured plot, but its manic energy takes it far. Its screwball premise finds doctors out to experiment with Connery's frontal lobe, but by the end of these three satires about American life spinning out of control, lobotomies almost begin to seem like a sane way of dealing with an insane world.
Key features: Trailers and a couple of featurettes spread out among the mostly bare-bones discs.