Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lonelyhearts (1958)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Supporting Actress- Maureen Stapleton

Hollywood has a long and ignominious history of taking wonderful books and adapting them into unimpressive films. What I have found to be the most frequent cause of this is that the filmmakers will adapt a general plot of the film, but then leave out the book's themes, details, and characterization, all of which are essential to the novel's success. Sometimes this is due to studio meddling, and other times due to a lack of understanding by the filmmakers, but the result is always the same: the film is a shell of what the book was. Though filmmakers should be free to make the work a unique artistic statement and not a mere transcription of a book, it is more often than not to the film's detriment when these components are not brought to the screen along with the plot.

Lonelyhearts is an adaptation of Nathanael West's 1933 novel Miss Lonelyhearts and the subsequent play by Howard Teichmann, directed by the great Broadway director Vincent J. Donehue and adapted for the screen by Dore Schary. The film stars Montgomery Clift as a journalist looking for a job for a newspaper who is assigned the advice column "Miss Lonelyhearts." Only a few moments into the film, what is immediately evident is that the film is a brooding noir film, as opposed to the satirical dark comedy of the novel. This tone does not suit the film well; the filmmakers strip all of the moral complexity from the narrative and present it as a much simpler story. Simplification is necessary when adapting a novel into a two hour film, but when the plot is stripped of all of its complexities, the character's actions make little sense and the whole film comes across as trite.

Maureen Stapleton received the film's sole nomination for Best Supporting Actress for playing Fay Doyle, one of the readers of "Miss Lonelyhearts" who the columnist meets. Her role is brief, but she packs more depth into her few moments than is present anywhere else in the film. She is equal parts attractive and repulsive, and is the only member of the cast or crew who brings any nuance to the film. Her nomination was well deserved, though her role was quite brief and thus it is easy to see why she was not given the trophy.

Perhaps Lonelyhearts suffered due to the studio's unwillingness to portray the many dark themes present in the novel; if this is the case, the film should not have been made in the first place. Instead, we are presented with a watered down, unimportant little film that is noteworthy only for being an adaptation of a brilliant novel and a nice turn by Maureen Stapleton.

Remaining: 3160 films, 880 Oscars, 5442 nominations


  1. I enjoyed this film when I viewed it on TCM for the first time several years ago. Finally found a DVD available on Amazon describing the film as "restored from the original print", when in fact it was nothing short of a bootleg. It looks as if it were transferred from an aging VCR tape. The TCM version was of a high picture quality. I wish this film could receive a proper DVD restoration for Clift and Ryan fans.

  2. Sadly it's not on TCM's schedule, so I think you're stuck with the terrible DVD versions for the time being. I'm actually surprised about this, since it's based on a book that's become a modern classic and is still quite popular, and stars a few legends. This one's definitely due for a nice treatment.