Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lonelyhearts (1958)

Although Montgomery Clift won't be taking center stage here at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To until next month, he's making an appearance a week early, as the 1958 drama Lonelyhearts is my contribution to the "Breaking News" blogathon.  Hosted by Comet over Hollywood and Lindsay's Movie Musings, this blogathon is all about journalism in classic film. It's sure to be a fantastic event, so you'll want to visit as many of the entries as you can.  Go HERE to get involved.


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Lonelyhearts, from 1958, is a bold, mature-themed drama, starring Montgomery Clift, Robert Ryan, Myrna Loy and Dolores Hart and featuring Maureen Stapleton in her Academy Award-nominated film debut. Based on the 1933 Nathanael West novel, Miss Lonelyhearts, this story had a 12-day run as a Broadway stage play in 1957.  I originally sought the film out because I was on a quest to see all of Monty Clift's work; however, subsequent viewings are more to enjoy the brilliance of Robert Ryan, who I believe is one of the most under-rated actors ever.



Adam White (Montgomery Clift), a kind, gentle young man with a desire to do right, hopes to land his dream job on the local newspaper, The Chronicle.  Having made the acquaintance of Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy), the wife of the paper's managing editor, he hopes to garner an introduction to said editor (Robert Ryan, who is absolutely stellar in this role).  Although Adam makes a bad first impression, Bill Shrike offers him a job.


Bill Shrike is a cynical, unlikeable man who believes it is impossible for people to be good, that people are all frauds and can't be trusted.  His relationship with his wife is condescending and ugly; ever since he caught her in an affair ten years earlier, he has treated her like a tramp, never forgiving her and constantly belittling her and humiliating her.



Bill promises Florence that he'll hire Adam, but only to prove the point that the man is a phony. It's not just Shrike's wife who is the target of his contempt---he informs one of his employees that he is as important to the department as Shrike's tonsils, which were lost 40 years earlier.



Adam is given the job as the editor of the Lonelyhearts column, and his responsibility is to respond to the advice-seeking letters that are sent to him.  At first, Adam laughs about the problems his readers are experiencing, but eventually, he begins to really care about the people behind each letter.  He longs to give them sound advice to help their hurting hearts; he begins to care too much and is somewhat emotionally involved with his audience.  For his part, Bill Shrike insists that the readers are all frauds and that they deserve what they have gotten; he challenges Adam to meet with one of the letter writers, just to prove his point.



Adam does meet with one of Miss Lonelyhearts' readers---Faye Doyle (Maureen Stapleton)---and she informs him that her husband was injured in an accident and that, as a result, they haven't had physical relations for seven years.  She needs advice as to what to do...but, within minutes, Mrs. Doyle is after more than advice---she wants Adam to kiss her, which he does, and before long, they are sexually intimate, an act which causes Adam to feel ashamed and Bill Shrike to triumphantly gloat that he was right all along, that Adam really is nothing more than a phony do-gooder.  How everything plays out is the balance of the film.




Upon my first viewing of Lonelyhearts, I gave it 3 stars (on Net Flix).  While it is an interesting, extremely well-acted drama, it is quite painful for me to watch, mostly because of the appearance of Montgomery Clift.  Right up there with Rock Hudson and Tyrone Power as one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen, Monty is fabulously gorgeous in all of his early works;  however, his 1956 car accident dramatically altered his appearance, and it was here in Lonelyhearts that I caught my first glimpse of the post-accident Monty. I have to admit, like movie-going audiences of the 1950's, I was shocked by the change in his facial appearance. (I think he even sounds different post-accident.) Since seeing Lonelyhearts for the first time, I've read Clift's biography, and I know how deeply grieved he was by the loss of his perfect looks. "While the man had confidence in himself as a creative artist, as a damaged commodity in an era of handsome rebels, he did not, and he continually wondered if his new face would keep him from being considered for parts." (p. 313-314)   "Self-conscious about his new face, Monty even took down most of the mirrors in his home...and he hated being photographed." (p 314)



Besides his distress over his appearance, here in the late '50's, Monty was in a deep, dark, troubled period (which would last the remainder of his too-short life); he was in poor health and constant pain, addicted to drugs and alcohol, angst-filled over his sexuality, and, due to his bizarre, erratic behavior, on the "outs" in Hollywood. Because I love Monty so much, and because Lonelyhearts was made during such a difficult time in his life, this film is exceedingly painful for me to watch (as are all his post-accident works).  Looks and personal demons aside, though, Monty, who was always adept at portraying men with deep inner struggles, gives his usual top-notch performance here in Lonelyhearts. Knowing the severe drug and alcohol addiction Mr. Clift was facing at this time of his life, I find it remarkable that he was able to perform at all, let alone to do so as wonderfully as he does.  His portrayal of the troubled, guilt-ridden Adam is really great, and his chemistry with Dolores Hart, who plays his girlfriend, Justy, is terrific, as is his chemistry with Ryan and Loy.

Clift's chemistry with Loy may well have been no acting job.  According to Montgomery Clift, a Biography, "Monty was impressed with Loy---by her wit, her compassion, her commitment to liberal causes...For several years, she was entangled in his romantic life.  They saw each other frequently and traveled together...Many of Myrna's friends thought she was deeply in love with Monty and that she wanted to marry him."  (p. 336-337)   



While my first-time viewing of Lonelyhearts garnered 3 stars, subsequent viewings have seen me going with 4 stars.  Yes, it's still painful watching the troubled Montgomery Clift, but I've gotten past that and am able to concentrate on the good.  For one thing, it is a very bold, mature story. (I love meaty dramas and will take one any day of the week.)  And the performance of Robert Ryan, who was always super at playing the unlikeable, is totally spectacular.  I love Ryan when he is playing nasty...he is simply brilliant.  In my opinion, he is even better than Clift here; in fact, I feel he steals the show.  Mr. Ryan was in his late 40's here, and I must say, I think he aged well...I love the little touch of gray at his temples.




Myrna Loy's part is fairly small and it is out of character for her, but she does a great job. She is in her early 50's here, and I think she, too, aged well.



Maureen Stapleton is spectacular in her screen debut.  It's easy to see why she received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination.



Finally, and I greatly appreciate this, the sexual encounter is left totally to the imagination, unlike today, when graphic sex and nudity fill the screen.  I really don't need to see everything we're privy to today; for me, less is more.

While some people might find the film's ending (which differs from the book) to be lame and unrealistic, I rather like it.  As one who believes in the power of forgiveness, I can easily accept what happens.  (I won't say more, so as not to give anything away.)

To my knowledge, Lonelyhearts is not out on DVD (at least in Region 1); however, it is available on You Tube, both as a whole and in several parts.  I hope you get a chance to see it...even if just for the opportunity to watch Robert Ryan doing what he does so well---playing a cynical, hardened, unlikeable man---and to catch Monty Clift doing what he does so well---portraying a deeply troubled man in the midst of a moral crisis.

Happy viewing!!

NOTE:  All quoted material from Montgomery Clift, a Biography, by Patricia Bosworth, Limelight Editions, 1978.

19 comments:

  1. Good review, Patti! This sounds like a difficult film to watch in some respects. I agree with your high estimation of Robert Ryan's acting prowess, he really could make a villainous part come to life. I also respect Montgomery Clift. Funnily enough, though, most of Monty's films that I enjoy best come from his post-accident phase, such as THE YOUNG LIONS and WILD RIVER (which is a really nice piece of work).

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    1. Jeff, "Wild River" was one of the 3 Clift films I needed to see in order to finish off his entire filmography, and I caught it a couple months ago. I loved it and consider it to be one of my 5-star film discoveries of the year. I'm intending to review it next month during Monty's "reign" as star of the month.

      I've only seen "The Young Lions" once, and, as with this one, I found it painful to watch. Besides the fact that Monty seemed WAY too thin and in frail health, the abuse his character was subjected to cut me to the quick. Now that I've read his bio and know how devastating a time those years were for him, I think it will be even harder to watch that film...but I am intending to do so for Monty's month.

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  2. Have you reviewed this one before? I feel like you have but I don't know. And I also don't know if I've seen it! I don't believe I have...the name sounds familiar but the plot isn't ringing a bell. I'll look it up on youtube later:) Great review!

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    1. Victoria, I did a short review of it way back in the first month of this blog, and I think we discussed it in an email then. I had intended to revise and expand on that review for Monty's month, but then when this blogathon came up, I figured it was the perfect entry.

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  3. Patti, I've never seen LONELYHEARTS, which definitely sounds interesting; that's certainly a stellar cast. Clift chose interesting roles and I can see why this one--a reluctant columnist with a moral dilemma--might have appealed to him. Very enjoyable post!

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    1. Rick, Monty seemed to be drawn to roles like this. His bio says that he was excited about his roles in "I Confess" (my favorite Hitch film), "From Here to Eternity," and "Terminal Station" (re-named "Indiscretion of an American Wife") because those characters "were faced with a terrible crisis." And, of course, my all-time favorite film, "A Place in the Sun" has him facing a moral crisis as well. He played such complex roles perfectly. They really showed the magnitude of his talent.

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  4. I've only been able to watch "Lonelyhearts" once. It's emotions are too raw for me.

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    1. I know what you mean, CW. "Lonelyhearts" is definitely not a feel-good movie. Monty's performance in "Judgment at Nuremberg" hits me similarly. He is brilliant in his performance, but it's one that I find devastatingly heartbreaking. It really is too painful to watch.

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  5. Lonelyhearts has long been on our to-see list ( thanks for the Youtube hint! ). Your review has made us want to see it all the more. What a great cast! Robert Ryan was one of those actors whom I started out by disliking ( must of seen him as a gangster ) but the more films I saw with him the more fascinated I became. He really was one of Hollywood's top talents, so versatile too.

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    1. I must admit, Sisters, that it was as a "nasty" that I first fell for Robert Ryan. I had never even heard of him, but then I watched "Crossfire" (which I got for Robert Mitchum). I was mesmerized by Ryan's portrayal of the cruel anti-Semitic soldier. I thought he was completely brilliant, and I began to seek out more of his works. As I did, I grew more and more impressed, and he moved to the very top of my favorite actor list. I do love him when he is a "bad boy;" however, my favorite of his films is "About Mrs. Leslie," which is a romantic drama and features him in a sympathetic light.

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  6. This sounds like a difficult film for many reasons, but what a wonderful cast! I've only seen a little bit of this but am keeping an eye on the TCM schedule for it again.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you re: Robert Ryan. He really is underrated, which is a shame, because he truly is one of the greats.

    Excellent review, Patti!

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    1. One wonders, SS, if Ryan might have been more appreciated (and more widely known) if he hadn't been basically typecast into these angry, cynical, nasty man roles. If he had had a wider variety of roles and, thus, reached a broader audience, he might have been every bit as appreciated as Gary Cooper.

      In fact, in his book "Movie Stars of the 40's," David Ragan says, " Ryan's stardom took a curious turn; this actor, who had all the equipment for a movie career to parallel Gary Cooper's, found himself typecast for years in neurotic and/or killer roles."

      We can only wonder what might have been had Ryan been given a broader range of roles.

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  7. I recently started reading Clift's biography - although I haven't got as far as the part you quote. I'd always found Clift's later movies to be quite distressing to watch. The first Clift film I ever saw was The Misfits, so In my head he's inextricably bound up with Gable and Monroe. When I saw a post accident film I couldn't believe it was the same actor. I'm hoping that his biography will make them easier to watch, and I'll certainly bear your comments in mind too.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post

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    1. Girls, it's interesting...your introduction to Monty came in a post-accident film, so you were surprised by his looks in his earlier works, while, for me, I saw him first pre-accident, so I was surprised by his looks in his later films. One thing didn't change, though, and that was his terrific acting ability.

      As far as his bio...last year, for Comet's "Gone Too Soon" blogathon, I profiled Monty, and in preparation for that, I read his bio. I was so deeply grieved by the heartache of his life that I was in tears on several occasions. I'm re-reading the book in preparation for having him as my star of the month in October, and, again, I'm finding myself in tears often. He doesn't appear to have ever known happiness, and it really breaks my heart. And, of course, the final decade of his life was torture for him, and it pains me so much to read about it.

      Just last week, I saw that there is a Clift biopic in the works, with Matt Bomer slated to portray him. I'm quite sure that will affect me even more than the book has done, as I'll be seeing his troubled-ness playing out in front of me, rather than just reading about it. And, of course, when compared with a 1978 book, a 2014 film will probably be much more intense and graphic.

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  8. Patti - what a great post!! I completely understand what you are saying about Monty post-accident. Loved your article!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Flick. I'm so glad you enjoyed the article.

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  9. Patti, I'm slow in commenting because I decided I simply had to watch this film before reading your review, and have now done so, on Youtube. A great choice for the blogathon, and I'm very glad to have been introduced to this film! I must say for me it is Clift's movie all the way, although I agree that Ryan is excellent too - I haven't seen very much of his work, but hope to see more. Loy hardly gets a look in but is good in the few scenes she has. At the start I really thought it was going to be a noir, with the moody atmosphere, but the atmosphere changes later, although the level of intensity is cranked up to unbearable levels. Anyway, Patti, really enjoyed your posting!

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    1. Judy, I'm so glad you got a chance to watch this movie. Thanks so much for letting me know what you thought of it.

      Myrna is definitely out of character, isn't she? I don't think I've seen a single film of hers in which she's not a strong, in-control woman. Having a verbally abusive husband is not a role one would expect her to take on...but she did very well in it.

      I thought Clift and Ryan played very well off each other. They were both terrific. I always enjoy catching 2 of my "great loves" in a film together.

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  10. I love both Monty and Myrna Loy, so this is a film for me! Monty aged considerably after his car accident, looking much older than he really was. But sometimes dark periods in real life can turn into a fierce to act, right?
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!

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