The film keeps the basic outline of the book: wannabe English poet Dennis Barlow (Robert Morse) visits Los Angeles and becomes wrapped up in the crazy, often grotesque business of funerals and burials in Southern California, eventually becoming a rival of star mortician Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) for the affections of quirky corpse cosmetician Aimée Thanatogenos (Anjanette Comer).
But with Terry Southern on-board as co-writer, fresh off Dr. Strangelove, it adds plenty more characters, hijinks and irreverence. A notable change from the book is the expansion of the character of the owner of the Whispering Glades Memorial Park, Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters), a classic shameless huckster who wraps himself up in piety while chasing money. After his brother Henry (also Jonathan Winters) loses his job at a film studio, Wilbur sets him up to work at The Happier Hunting Ground, a pet mortuary that the Reverend secretly runs on the side.
By the end, besides the funeral business, the film gets in some potshots at Hollywood, religion, patriotism, the English, the military, and NASA as well.
"Tropes have become a middle class business. There's no future in them.":
- Adaptation Expansion: The novel is only around 140 pages. The film takes the basic plot, makes a few changes, then adds more subplots, mostly following Wilbur Glenworthy's exploits.
- Adaptation Name Change:
- Wilbur Kenworthy becomes Wilbur Glenworthy for the film.
- Mr. Joyboy gets a first name here: Lafayette (Laf for short).
- Big Eater: Mrs. Joyboy. At one point she tries to grab some food from the fridge and it falls on her. She's more concerned about the food being taken out of her hands than whether or not the fridge is lifted off of her.
- Black Comedy: Already present in the book, but the film takes it Up to Eleven.
- Black Comedy Rape: Attempted by Rev. Glenworthy on Aimée.
- Broken Pedestal: Everyone important in Aimée's life betrays her: Dennis, Mr. Joyboy, The Guru Brahmin and Rev. Glenworthy (who's literally on a pedestal on the huge statue of himself at the entrance to Whispering Glades).
- The Cameo: Quite a few.
- Camp Straight: Joyboy is very fussy, effeminate and body-conscious, but he harbors a huge crush on Aimée.
- Child Prodigy: Gunther Fry, a budding aerospace engineer who lives near The Happier Hunting Ground.
- Fan Disservice: The sight of Rod Steiger in just his underwear when Mr. Joyboy gets a call from the mortuary while he's lifting weights on his bed.
- Fat Bastard: Joyboy's mother.
- The Ingenue: Aimée is closer to Genius Ditz in the book, but she's definitely this in the film, bordering on Womanchild.
- Large Ham: Rev. Wilbur Glenworthy, with a side of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
- Mama's Boy: Mr. Joyboy has a disturbingly unhealthy relationship with his mother, waiting on her hand and foot.
- Newscaster Cameo: The reporter in the final scene is played by longtime Los Angeles Lakers play-by-play announcer Chick Hearn.
- Same Language Dub: Robert Morse had to redub all his dialogue in post-production since he didn't quite master an English accent during filming. Jonathan Winters also seems to have redubbed a lot of his Henry Glenworthy dialogue.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Aimée is quite a stunner when she lets her hair down and doesn't wear that ridiculous Whispering Glades white dress and veil outfit.
- Spiritual Successor: Terry Southern's writing contributions continued the irreverent satire he brought to Dr. Strangelove. He even re-used the concept of a military commander named Buck. Tony Richardson clearly takes a lot of his directorial cues here from Stanley Kubrick's work on Strangelove and Lolita.