Monday 13 August 2007

Lonelyhearts (1958) Vincent J Donehue

Myrna Loy looks amazingly old in this film, but then of the 41 films I've seen her in, 40 of them came over a decade before this one, only Midnight Lace coming afterwards. She's Florence Shrike, unhappy and unforgiven old woman, and she's married to Robert Ryan, playing the intellectually sadistic William Shrike, feature editor of the Chronicle. Young Adam White wants to work for him, finds his way to him via his wife at a pub near the paper and aces a little test Shrike puts him through. Shrike makes him Miss Lonelyhearts and while he doesn't want the job to start with he ends up taking it very seriously indeed.

Adam White is the lead, of course, and is played by Montgomery Clift, powerful young actor who was amazingly already over halfway through his career. Coming to this film from such major films as From Here to Eternity and Raintree County, he looks like a young man with an old Cary Grant head on his body. He's powerful though, as I'm coming to learn that he always was, but he's far from alone in that in this film. He looks wrong though, like he has too much head and too little body, just like Bogart did when his body started wasting away. Maybe it's just a perspective thing but I couldn't get that thought out of my mind.

Robert Ryan is a powerful scene stealer here, playing an alcoholic serial cheat with a talent for seriously left handed compliments. He's bitter and has the will and the cynical wit to make it bite into everyone else. Myrna Loy is playing heavily against type as his wife who has cheated on him in return while drunk. It seems strange seeing her as neither wholesome American housewife or exotic precode beauty, and it's hard not to watch her purely on those merits. Adding to the mix is the man who wanted the Lonelyhearts column: Ned Gates, played by an old and balding (but not bald) Jackie Coogan, who never failed to be magnetic on screen.

Of all these names, it's Maureen Stapleton as a fake lonelyheart who got the nominations, both for an Oscar and for a Golden Globe. She's good here, definitely, but I'm amazed that she got the nod over especially Robert Ryan and Montgomery Clift. Clift is probably too powerful, his presence overpowering the age he appears to be, but Ryan is spot on. I spent the whole film waiting for someone to clock him one because he certainly deserved it, to the degree that I wouldn't have been unduly surprised if it had been the hand of Myrna Loy.

The story deserves notice too, being tough and clever and deliberate. It's based on a play by Howard Teichmann, and was adapted by Dore Schary, neither of them names I know but obviously major talents nonetheless. I know very little about modern theatre, 'modern' meaning probably anything written in at least the second half of the twentieth century and maybe a little earlier, but there are obviously seriously good writers hiding in there behind all those names I know but have never paid much attention to. Given the right people to bring the stories to life, something special happens and we can't stop watching. I can't say that I enjoyed this because it's hardly the sort of story to enjoy, but I couldn't stop watching.

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