DirectorVincent J. Donahue
Release Date(s)1958 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D
Lonelyhearts, based on the novel Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West (The Day of the Locust), is a drama of idealism and cynicism set in the world of journalism. Directed by Vincent J. Donohoe, the film features an all-star cast and an Academy Award-nominated performance by a newcomer.
At the suggestion of Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy), wife of newspaper editor Bill Shrike (Robert Ryan), aspiring writer Adam White (Montgomery Clift) asks her husband for a job. Shrike has become a surly misanthrope, disillusioned about people after repeated betrayals. He’s particularly disturbed by an affair Florence had years ago. Though she has apologized repeatedly, he won’t let it go and throws it up to her frequently, resulting in a marriage poisoned by antagonism and mistrust.
Shrike believes all people misrepresent themselves and has become deeply cynical about his fellow human beings and caustic with his staff. He hires White for the pleasure of watching him chafe at having to be the new “Miss Lonelyhearts,” responsible for reading letters filled with the writers’ personal problems and answering them in his column. White is the opposite of Shrike—idealistic, compassionate, and empathetic—and soon starts to take his new job seriously. His relationship with fiancee Justy Sergeant (Dolores Hart) is put to the test when his sympathy for the folks who bare their souls to Miss Lonelyhearts comes between them. Reaching out to letter writer Fay Doyle (Maureen Stapleton), who confides that she’s in a frustrating marriage, White finds his own faith in people’s goodness fractured.
Vincent J. Donohue, in his first feature directing assignment, starts with promising material but fails to elicit a captivating performance from Clift, who often seems to be sleepwalking. The chemistry between Clift and Hart is non-existent, making it difficult for us to warm to his character. There’s a sameness to his performance no matter the content of the scene, whether White is getting a much needed job or dealing in person with a troubled woman. With an unchanging expression, eyes that seem dead, and stiff body language, this is hardly the Clift of A Place in the Sun or From Here to Eternity. The film was made after a bad car crash in 1956 that made the left side of his face nearly immobile. This is particularly noticeable in close-ups, and Clift does little to compensate for it, rendering his Adam White colder than the script intends. Perhaps director Donohue might have been too overwhelmed by the assignment and intimidated by Clift, a Hollywood star, to elicit a sharper performance.
Robert Ryan plays Shrike as a hardened, sarcastic man, arrogant and insensitive. With a barely noticeable sneer and a slight shoulder shrug, his body language speaks volumes about his disdain for humanity. Why he stays with his wife even as he won’t bury the past suggests sadism. He enjoys torturing her as payback for a deep hurt that’s never healed, only festered. Ryan adds stature to a role that might have come off cartoonish with a less proficient actor.
Myrna Loy is mostly wasted in a thankless role as Shrike’s unhappy wife. She has one good scene, in which she confronts Shrike about his constant harping on her betrayal, but most of the time we see her, elegantly attired, sitting regally at a table in the bar favored by newspaper men.
Dolores Hart is very good as the loyal girl next door who stands by her man even when things get tense. The way she conveys sweetness and optimism contrasts markedly with the sullen performance of Clift, and it’s difficult to grasp what her Justy sees in his Adam.
The best performance by far is that of Maureen Stapleton as the sad and lonely letter writer Fay Doyle. A stage actress, Ms. Stapleton gives a heart-rending performance of a deeply troubled soul whose motivations are misjudged by White. Surprised that White calls her, even though she asked him to do so in her letter, she delivers a touching monologue (we never see White’s end of the conversation), and we feel her pain as she longs for connection to a sympathetic person. Married for 11 years, Fay loves her husband but he had a bad accident that rendered him impotent and she feels lonely and depressed because she misses intimacy. She assumes that White will offer the answer to her plight. Stapleton was rightfully nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this performance, her screen debut.
Lonelyhearts was shot by director of photography John Alton on black-and-white 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber offers a “brand new HD master by MGM” that provides a sharp, detailed image with no visible imperfections. Details such as facial wrinkles, stubble on the male actors, patterns in Shrike’s neckties, gentle waves in a lake, the bark of trees, and a marble pattern on hallway walls are well delineated. The monochromatic images look great, with deep velvety blacks and nearly dazzling whites. Dramatic shadows are used in the scene between Fay Doyle and Adam White, with close-ups capturing the pain on Fay’s face and White’s genuine concern.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. Ambient sound in Delahanty’s Bar is blended well with dialogue, never overwhelming it. Conrad Salinger’s score is used sparingly to bridge scenes and add emotional depth.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Trailer (2:20)
- Indiscretion of an American Wife Trailer (2:16)
- Judgment at Nuremberg Trailer (3:02)
- Freud Trailer (3:22)
- Day of the Outlaw Trailer (2:08)
- There’s Always Tomorrow Trailer (2:39)
- The Rainmaker Trailer (2:21)
- He Who Must Die Trailer (12:20)
- Anna Lucasta Trailer (1:50)
- Shake Hands With the Devil Trailer (2:17)
Lonelyhearts lacks the polish of a seasoned director. The script is dialogue-heavy and the film moves at a sluggish pace. With its neat, upbeat ending, Lonelyhearts conveniently, if unbelievably, resolves its issues with contrived actions and decisions.
- Dennis Seuling