United Artists/ Twentieth Century Pictures
Montgomery Clift, Myrna Loy, Deloris Hart, Maureen Stapleton
Nathanial West is not for the faint of heart! His novels are brutal, soul crushing depictions of life in the United States during the Great Depression. Miss Lonelyhearts, on which the film is based, is fraught with themes of alienation as people are reduced to mere cogs in the wheels of mass production, in this case the newspaper business, at the peak of the Industrial Revolution. Whew. That was a mouthful! Even this film, made to the white washing motion picture production code, Lonelyhearts, is wrought with bleak, dismal depictions of the lives of its desperate characters. These themes still hold true today at the dawn of the Information Age. People have fewer opportunities for interpersonal communication and rely more on email, texting, instant messaging, and social media.
You may be wondering why Fabby would choose a such a dark depressing movie to review. Well sometimes these movies can be cathartic. Misery loves company and all that.
This sanitized updated (to the 1950s) version has great impact due to the intense performance by Montgomery Clift. This film was made about a year after Montgomery Clift fell asleep at the wheel.and smashed his car into a telephone pole after leaving a dinner party at the home of Elizabeth Taylor. He had to have massive facial reconstruction surgeries, which gave him a harder more chiseled look, in comparison to his original handsome, angelic appearance. This dramatic changer of appearance actually works in this film.
Before and After
Also in the film is the beautiful Deloris Hart, who famously left her acting career and a fiance in 1963 to become a Nun, a story that was recounted in the documentary God is Bigger than Elvis. Yes, Miss Hart did co-star with “The King” in the film Loving You.
Fun fact! Sister Deloris’ Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut is where actress Patricia Neal went to seek solace when her marriage to Raold Dahl (acclaimed children’s author who is known for the novels Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Big Peach, and Matilda among others. For a complete bibliography look here) ended in divorce Also, he was a complete douche who divorced Neal, a woman who bore him five children (she carried one child during and after she suffered a debilitating stroke and had to learn to walk and talk again) for his young assistant named Felicity. Also, in Fabby’s opinion, Raold Dahl is a boorish, sexist misogynist rube.
Neal visited the Abbey many times, converted to Catholicism, and is buried there.
Maureen Stapleton (fourth cousin to Jean Stapleton) was nominated for an Academy Award for this, her first film.
But I digress.
The film opens up in a bar because people in the 1950s drank and smoked…a lot. Adam White (Montgomery Clift) is invited by Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy) to sit and have a drink. White declines the drink because he doesn’t do well with alcohol but agrees to have a chat. He’s looking for a job and Florence Strike just happens to be the wife of William Strike (played by Robert Ryan in a great performance as the deliciously smarmy and sadistic editor of the Chronicle newspaper). Shrike arrives at the bar to meet his wife ( Florence doesn’t work and spends a lot of time sitting in the bar waiting for her lout of a husband to show up) and is introduced to White. Strike wonders how White knew to find him in that particular bar and White tells him because it’s close to the paper’s office building. BRILLIANT! He asks White to write an audition piece for the paper and White writes an article about meeting the boorish Strike and being witness to the cruel and insulting way he treats his wife. Instead of offending him, Strike is amused by the article (aren’t all women supposed to be treated badly?) and White is hired. He is given the task of writing the Miss Lonelyhearts advice-to-the-lovelorn column.
Justy (Deloris Hart), White’s virginal fiance is thrilled with the news. She wants to get married and out of her household where she works full-time and cooks and cleans (women’s work) for her father and younger brothers. Who needs that?
As time progresses, White finds himself consumed with the problems of his letter writers. He asks Strike for a different position at the paper but Strike, who enjoys watching the intense young reporter suffer, refuses. He mocks White’s empathy (manly men do not empathize) for his readers and the emotional toll it takes on him. Strike orders him to contact the letter writers to confirm their stories. Having personal contact with his readers is more than White can bear and he goes back to drinking (in the bar near the newspaper where Mrs. Strike apparently lives and has her own personal booth). The bar also has a snazzy jagged jazzy jukebox that plays in the background which adds to Whites angst.
He does a lot of head holding and bulging eyes.
One of the readers he contacts is Fay Doyle (played by Maureen Stapleton who gives a wonderful performance as the blowsy, dingy unfulfilled house wife) Doyle confides in White that her husband came home from “the war” (not sure if it was WWII or Korea) and that she and her husband are no longer intimate. Then Doyle practically jumps White (not an exaggeration) and they have sexy time.
This now adds guilt to Whites list of problems. White rejects Doyle’s request for another “meeting” and she becomes furious!
Also, White has a deep dark secret about his past that he keeps from everyone including Justy.
So, what is White’s secret? Will he ever get out of his debilitating assignment at the paper or be driven mad? Will Strikes’ mocking incite White to violence? Will White and Justy’s relationship survive? Will Justy’s dad and brothers learn to take care of themselves? Will Strike ever meet his wife on time? And what is Doyle’s diabolical plot for revenge? You have to watch the movie to find out. Luckily it’s free on youtube!