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Saturday Night Cinema: Lonelyhearts

Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema selection is Lonelyhearts (aka Miss Lonelyheart) (1958) starring Montgomery Clift. Clift is, as always, superb. The film also stars Robert Ryan, Myrna Loy, Jackie Coogan, Dolores Hart, and Maureen Stapleton in her first film role. Stapleton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as for a Golden Globe.

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For his film directorial debut, producer Dore Schary selected a longtime pet property: Miss Lonelyhearts, Nathaniel West’s trenchant 1933 novel. Montgomery Clift delivers a haunting performance as journalist Adam White, assigned by his cynical editor Adam Shrike (Robert Ryan) to take over a newspaper advice column. Signing himself Miss Lonelyhearts, White is appalled by the human misery pouring out of the letters sent to him (one of his correspndents was born without a nose), but Shrike insists that anyone who’d write to such a column is fake. To find out for himself, White looks up one of the correspondents, unhappily married Fay Doyle (Oscar-nominated Maureen Stapleton). His pity for the seriously disturbed Fay nearly leads to tragedy (in the novel, there’s no “nearly”).

NY Times review:

Lonelyhearts (1958)

Moral Metaphors Mixed in ‘Lonelyhearts’; Nathanael West Novel Is Adapted as Film

 

 

Published: March 5, 1959

 

A CLEARLY sincere endeavor to say something moving and profound about the danger of too-quick moral judgments and the virtue of loving thy fellow man is soberly made in Dore Schary’s first independent film, “Lonelyhearts,” an odd sort of newspaper drama, which came to the Victoria yesterday. And consistently fine performances by an exceptionally well-balanced cast give further cause for regarding this endeavor with appreciation and respect.

 

So many dedicated people, including Robert Ryan. Montgomery Clift, Maureen Stapleton and Myrna Loy, not to mention Vincent J. Donehue, the youthful stage director whose first film assignment this is, have obviously bent their efforts to the aim of a clear, revealing film that it is disagreeable to have to notice that they have somewhat missed that mark.

 

While “Lonelyhearts” does introduce us to an interesting group of troubled souls, most of whom had first presentation in Nathanael West’s novel “Miss Lonelyhearts” and have since reappeared in various guises on the screen and stage, it does not resolve their dark dilemmas with demonstrations that are sharp and to the point. Mr. Schary, who wrote his own screen play, has mixed his moral metaphors.

 

On one metaphorical level Mr. Schary has a managing editor who has become disillusioned about people because he has often been betrayed. Particularly, this editor thinks he has been cheated by his patient and long-suffering wife (who admits she was once unfaithful to him) and on this he bitterly harps. He is cynical and a sadist. He frankly distrusts everyone. Furthermore, he seems to think that most people are either boots or frauds.

 

On another metaphorical level Mr. Schary has a hopeful young newspaper man who represents a sort of mushy amalgam of idealism, purity and love. Assigned by the editor to write a column of advice to the lonely and forlorn, the young hopeful attempts to believe in people, until he has his eyes opened by a dame. Then he discovers that base instincts are also floating around in himself, and he apparently is shocked to realize the flaw in his own morality.

 

Up to this point, Mr. Schary keeps his distinctions fairly clear and maintains a reasonable antipathy between his two characters. But when he tries to bring them together and purge them in one moment of critical truth (an irate husband brandishing a gun sets the crisis), the metaphors are muddled and confused. The power of purification in such a crisis is no more than a wishful dramatist’s thought.

 

However, Mr. Ryan is compelling through the better part of the film, even though he is given some of the gaudiest things to say that you’ve ever heard. His kind of managing-editor dialogue went out of fashion with Prohibition beer. And Mr. Clift is remarkably affecting as the troubled young lovelorn-columnist whose internal battles and soul-searchings get him into some terrible sweats.

 

Miss Loy is sadly torn yet tender as the editor’s weary, waiting wife and Miss Stapleton is harrowingly hectic as the hungry dame who deceives the young man. Dolores Hart as the latter’s pure fiancée, Jackie Coogan and Mike Kellin as tired news-hawks and Onslow Stevens as a bitter man in prison stand out in minor roles.

 

Actually, there is no redemption for the sad sacks in “Lonelyhearts” and the basic weakness of this picture is the attempt to pretend that there is.
LONELYHEARTS, screen play by Dore Schary; based on Nathanael West’s “Miss Lonely Hearts” and the play by Howard Teichmann; directed by Vincent J. Donchue; produced by Mr. Schary; released by United Artists. At the Victoria, Broadway and Forty-sixth Street. Running time: 102 minutes.
Adam White . . . . . Montgomery Clift
William Shrike . . . . . Robert Ryan
Florence Shrike . . . . . Myrna Loy
Justy Sargent . . . . . Dolores Hart
Fay Doyle . . . . . Maureen Stapleton
Pat Doyle . . . . . Frank Maxwell
Gates . . . . . Jackie Coogan
Goldsmith . . . . . Mike Kellin
Mr. Sargent . . . . . Frank Overton
Older Brother . . . . . Don Washbrook
Younger Brother . . . . . John Washbrook
Mr. Lassiter . . . . . Onslow Stevens
Edna . . . . . Mary Alan Hokanson
Bartender . . . . . John Galludet
Jerry . . . . . Lee Zimmer

 

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