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Only the Lonely Reviews

Exploring the ground broken by Paddy Chayefsky's MARTY, first as a 1953 teleplay, later as the equally acclaimed 1955 theatrical release starring Ernest Borgnine and directed by Delbert Mann, Chris Columbus's ONLY THE LONELY examines, with a light if sentimental touch, the plight of a likable 38-year-old Chicago policeman dominated by his mother. Danny Muldoon (John Candy) is astoundingly popular, not only in his neighborhood, but among a wealth of people who extend from firefighters and theatre owners to ballpark managers and railway dispatchers. During a comic interlude at the local Irish tavern, where two old-timers have brought a third for a literally final drink, Danny meets Theresa Luna (Ally Sheedy), the daughter of the local funereal director and it is love at first sight--with problems. Theresa is terminally shy and Danny has his mother (Maureen O'Hara), about whom he worries incessantly in amusing fantasy sequences that picture her threatened by comic book muggers and smoke-filled construction sites. The irony is that Mrs. Muldoon seems fairly invulnerable, especially to the feelings of others, including a would-be lover and neighbor, Nick (Anthony Quinn). She feels little inhibition about expressing her hackneyed prejudices, and when told that Theresa is Italian, Danny's mother launches into a litany of the sins and crimes "invented" by the Sicilians. Danny and Theresa's romance must not only hurdle the formidable obstacle represented by Mrs. Muldoon, but the silly opinions and self-interest of various friends and relations. A more serious hindrance is the deeper doubts each of them harbors, which are never fully explained. This is in keeping with the feature's texture concocted, in part, of John Candy's self-deprecating charm. At the center of the film's sentimental tone is the implication that family is the rationale for all life, especially when contrasted with the lonely death of Doyle (Milo O'Shea), one of the tavern regulars. In the empty funeral parlor, Danny wonders aloud where Doyle's surviving family is, only to be told that he, his mother and a friend are the family. There is also a curious hint of would-be social mobility that is never confronted. Theresa talks of going to New York where her makeup skills could be appreciated by audiences broader than the mourned and mourners, while Danny talks lightly of getting "transferred" from Chicago to Florida or New York. The assumption that Danny's charm and friends extend quite so far is a little daunting and odd in a film that is very good on local details, like the aged washing machine in the Muldoon home, an enamel Coca-Cola sign outside a local store and the disaster Danny makes of the stove after an effort at preparing a meal. With its muted romance and gentle humor, ONLY THE LONELY may be an effort by John Candy to steer away from the purely comic characterizations that have been his stock-in-trade. As a result there are almost two separate films, the story of Danny's romance with Theresa as beset by Mom and the misadventures of police officer Muldoon, whose duties consist mainly of transporting either felons or corpses. He and his colleague Sal (James Belushi) share the more slapstick portions of the film.