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Eager to land a journalistic position, Adam White goes to work as an advice-giving newspaper columnist. His editor, Shrike, takes pleasure in browbeating his alcoholic wife Florence for her past adultery, and assigning his employees journalistic jobs for which they have little aptitude or interest. Shrike goads Adam into meeting one of his correspondents, Fay Doyle, a teary, self-pitying woman who makes a play for him. Adam is torn between his loyalty to the newspaper and his girl Justy. Written by
Montgomery Clift is a writer hired to be "Miss Lonelyhearts" for a newspaper in "Lonelyhearts," a 1958 film also starring Robert Ryan, Myrna Loy, Delores Hart, and Maureen Stapleton in her film debut.
About 30 years ago - yes, 30 - I saw the play "Miss Lonelyhearts" with none other than Kelsey Grammar, who had not yet gone to Hollywood. The play, as well as the book, are quite different from what ended up on the screen. In the film, the ending was changed to a more upbeat one.
This is a great film if you're contemplating suicide because this will take you right over the edge. It is relentlessly depressing with some pathetic characters and some unlikeable ones. Adam (Clift)is a man with a hidden past that he keeps even from his girlfriend (Delores Hart). All the viewer really knows at first is that he was raised in an orphanage and has a father in prison. The paper on which Adam works is owned by William Shrike, an abusive, cynical man (Ryan) who is horrible not only to his employees but to his wife (Myrna Loy) because of her infidelity 10 years before. This is a man who carries a grudge. When he meets Adam, he thinks his sincerity is fake and becomes determined to wear him down. His first step is to hire him as Miss Lonelyhearts. Adam becomes very bothered by the problems his readers send to him, especially because he can't help anyone. When Shrike dares him to meet one of the letter-writers, he does so. It's Maureen Stapleton, a needy woman with a crippled husband who can't make love to her.
The performances in this film are very good, but the film isn't. Clift apparently was very disappointed in it because it lacked none of the bite of the novel and none of the symbolism of Adam as a Christlike figure bearing the sins of others. Robert Ryan is very convincing as the hateful Shrike, and Myrna Loy is beautiful and sad as his wife. Stapleton received an Oscar nomination for her effective performance. An accomplished stage actress, Stapleton evokes the desperation of this lonely woman.
Montgomery Clift by this time was almost at a point where he was dependent upon the kindness of strangers. He was too much of a risk for Hollywood to be interested. Like so many people who are victims of horrible accidents, he had become addicted to painkillers and alcohol. If not for Elizabeth Taylor making a case for him, he would not have been cast in "Suddenly, Last Summer." As it was, Mankiewicz almost stopped shooting on the film. He is fragile and glassy-eyed here, in obvious pain, and his voice slurs. The fragility works well in this role as does the sensitivity he brings to the part. He still had a beautiful smile, which unfortunately he doesn't get to use much here.
It's always wonderful to see Montgomery Clift perform, even toward the end of his career. That interesting voice of his, the intelligence and sensitivity of his work, and the tenderness with which he approached a love scene were unmatched. His film career was relatively short, but he left a powerful legacy. "Lonelyhearts" is not a great film, but it stars Montgomery Clift, so it's worth seeing.
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