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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
Ambitious but unsuccesful film version of a great novel.
Nathaniel West's "Lonelyhearts" is a haunting novella about how an idealistic young man is affected by his job as an advice-giving columnist for his town's newspaper. It was intelligently adapted for the stage in the mid-50's, and the film version plainly uses that adaptation as a reference point as much as the novel itself. In ways, the film expands on the play's success, opening it up to reveal an idealized 50's picture-postcard town on the surface before centering on the insensitivity lying just underneath. Writer/Producer Schary and Director Donohue are to be commended for the atmosphere they have successfully created. It is unfortunate that they did not have enough faith in the material to resist the temptation to give it a happy ending, an ending which really is not in keeping with the events which precede it.
It must have seemed like a great idea to cast Montgomery Clift in the lead role of Adam, and a few years earlier it would have been, but this compelling actor's personal demons had so impacted upon him by this time that it is impossible not to be distracted by his unhealthy state of being. His slurred speech, unsteady gait and jerky mannerisms are entirely at odds with this character, who is said to have never had a stronger drink than a coca-cola. He is too good of an actor not to have effective moments - he works beautifully with Onslow Stevens, who plays his father - but this is a performance that holds our attention largely for unintentional reasons. Maureen Stapleton is sensational in her film debut as a writer to the column who manipulates Adam, and her performance would be right at home in a more faithful and successful version of this novel. Otherwise, this is a well-intended film which fails both to adequately reflect the novel on which it is based and to succeed on it's own terms.
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