When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
Evelyn Waugh Meets Luis Buñuel

The Harry Ransom Center on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin is an Elysian Fields for film lovers.  Among its treasures are the David O. Selznick Archives, the Robert De Niro Archives and the Gloria Swanson Archives.  While doing some volunteer research work amidst their film holdings, I unearthed an artifact that some thought was only legend.

In Pauline Kael’s review of Tony Richardson’s 1965 movie adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel,The Loved One, she mentioned that the idea of adapting this book, a satire on the film industry and mortuary industry of Los Angeles, had been circulating for years, and that even Luis Buñuel had attempted to adapt it to the screen.  For decades I have been searching for verification of that fact but turned up nothing.

All that changed when I was examining legal documents of producer Lewis Allen (LORD OF THE FLIES, FAHRENHEIT 451, SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA), and came upon a mimeographed screenplay from the 1950s:  THE LOVED ONE by Philip A. Roll and Luis Buñuel, from the novel by Evelyn Waugh.

Man,  I hit pay-dirt!!

The front cover’s label is from the Ingo Preminger Agency, so Otto’s brother was the script’s agent.  The script was probably written in 1957, as one shot describes the tombstone for Sir Francis (John Gielgud’s character in the 1965 film) and gives his dates as 1896-1957.  There are other bits of detail that also situate the script in the mid-fifties, such as screen directions for women passing by wearing Toreador pants.

The name of Buñuel’s writing partner “Philip A. Roll” was actually the nom-de-blacklist for Oscar-nominated screenwriter Hugo Butler.  Butler and his wife, Jean Rouverol (an actress-turned-screenwriter who played W. C. Fields’ daughter in IT’S A GIFT ) went to Mexico during the Blacklist, where Butler collaborated with Buññuel on ROBINSON CRUSOE and THE YOUNG ONE.  The year before THE LOVED ONE script, Butler and his wife had found a front and through him had submitted a script to Robert Aldrich:  the dark and edgy Joan Crawford opus, AUTUMN LEAVES.  [Butler had written the adaptation for Jean Renoir’s THE SOUTHERNER and Aldrich had been A.D. on that shoot.]  Butler continued to work for Aldrich until his death while preparing the script for THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE.

AIN'T LIFE SOMETHIN'? One year you're doing physical comedy with W. C. Fields, then 20 years later you're in exile working with surrealists in Mexico. [Jean Rouverol, on the left]

AIN'T LIFE SOMETHIN'? One day you're doing physical comedy with W. C. Fields, then 20 years later you're in exile working with surrealists in Mexico. (Jean Rouverol, on the left)

The script definitely has some Buñuelian imagery:  the opening scene is of a dog being run over on a balmy evening in Bel-Air.  The key character, Dennis, scatters animal ashes over Los Angeles from a Piper Cub.  As mentioned in the book, there’s a dead polar bear on ice but Buñuel has it prominently displayed and discussed (the script has the camera from the POV of inside the refrigerator).  An image used in the Richardson film, of Dennis taking his lunch out of a refrig where it lies next to a dead pet, is also in this script.  There are other humorously bizarre corpse images in the script too, such as a long slab filled with dog bodies at the pet crematorium after a bad batch of dog food had been sold in Pasadena.

Lots of dialog is lifted from the book; but the main deviation is a happy ending (!!).  Aimee’s suicide attempt is a failure (she turns on the gas in Mister Joyboy’s office instead of using embalming chemicals).  Joyboy finds the body, leaves the scene, and sends Dennis to dispose of Aimee (Dennis does not extract blackmail money from Joyboy as he does in the book).  Dennis arrives; Aimee is alive and realizes he’s the man she wants.  Also — as in the book — the British Film Colony has deemed Dennis’ profession to be unseemly and pays him off to go home.  With this cash, he takes Aimee away and they toast their airline departure with champagne.  Cut to the L.A. skyline blanketed in smog.  Fade out.

One thing this script has in common with the final film adaptation (and it’s something that didn’t exist in the novel), is that the blessed leader of Whispering Glades, Mister Kenworth, is an actual character with dialog and designs on Aimee.  As in the Richardson film, her disillusion with Kenworth was the final element that pushed her to suicide.

The Paul Williams / astronaut / space missile / Barbara Nichols / sending-Aimee-into-outer-space aspect (an unwieldly facet of the movie) was only in the Richardson film.

While this script, the Richardson film, and the novel all poked fun at SoCal culture, this script doesn’t poke fun at America in general as the Richardson film did. It stays truer to the book in that it satirizes the tight-knit British Film Colony a great deal.

Check out the movie, THE LOVED ONE (1965), read the book, and — if you’re ever in Austin — read Buñuel’s script.  See what you think.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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1 Comment to “Evelyn Waugh Meets Luis Buñuel”

  1. Beth Withey says:

    Thanks for posting this on fb Doug. It was grat reading an analysis and comparison of the booke and film…both favorites of mine. Remins me that I wat to reread and re view both!

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