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