Nathanael West is probably one of the most disregarded major novelists in this century, but his dark, brooding, brilliant works do not translate well to the screen. Here his powerful novella about the lovelorn is brilliantly enacted, tautly directed, and scripted as faithfully as producer
Schary's compassion for the public would allow. Clift, in one of his best roles, is a reporter who is assigned the lovelorn column of his paper by cynical publisher Ryan, who is also superb in his role. Clift comes to be known as "Miss Lonelyhearts" and, at first, does not take his job seriously.
Then he begins to feel compassion for the poor, lonely, love-starved creatures who pour out their hearts to him. Some of his correspondents, like Stapleton, are neurotic sociopaths, feeding their own egos by inveigling Clift not only into correspondence but confrontations that almost prove lethal.
Meanwhile, Loy, Ryan's wife, who has lost all respect for her husband, makes a friend of Clift, a relationship which the jaded Ryan both encourages and condemns. Ryan is the terrible goad who keeps prodding Clift to open his soul to strangers reading his column, a task that turns Clift into an
emotionally torn man and confuses his relationship with girl friend Hart. Ryan insists that Clift go that one step further in consoling the unbalanced Stapleton, the wife of a cripple, causing a sordid affair (which resulted in the hero's death at the hands of the husband in the book). Clift
survives all the trauma and then goes off with Hart, leaving Ryan and his rag in the lurch. Hart is the only person Clift has room enough to love in the end. He has tried desperately to become an emotional sponge for humanity's sake, at least before the disillusionment set in. Much of Ryan's
seething hatred for humanity is reserved for wife Loy who, long ago, had a brief affair, a tryst that Ryan will never let her forget, keeping alive the idea that she is nothing more than a tramp and encouraging her to wallow in her alcoholism.
Clift is fascinating in this jumbled film as he plays a man of emotional indecision who must arbitrate the emotional destinies of nameless others. Donehue does a commendable job with a meaningful but multi-directional script. Producer Schary got the backing for this film from United Artists with
the proviso that he bring in the entire production for less than $1 million. He prevailed upon Clift to accept only half of his usual fee of $200,000, to appear in the film, Schary's first after leaving MGM. In fact, all of the cast members worked for half salary. Donehue directed the film by
blocking it out like a play, which pleased Clift and the others. The effect, however, was to give a confining look to the overall film. Clift could only work until about 2:00 PM, when he would show signs of fatigue and the entire production had to shut down. LONELYHEARTS took 45 days to complete,
and, when it was released, it did only spotty business at the box office. The West novel had been filmed once before, as ADVICE TO THE LOVELORN, in 1933, starring Lee Tracy, who played the story strictly for laughs. Stapleton earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Nathanael West is probably one of the most disregarded major novelists in this century, but his dark, brooding, brilliant works do not translate well to the screen. Here his powerful novella about the lovelorn is brilliantly enacted, tautly directed, and s… (more)