LONELYHEARTS (1958) ***
He is Adam White, a hopeful writer who needs a job. He goes to a newspaper where he accepts to be engaged by William Shrike (Robert Ryan), the overberaring newspaper editor whose cynicism is reinforced by his wife Florence (Myrna Loy) being an alcoholic. This, in turn, was caused by a major psychological burden, her bad conscience for having cheated on her husband.
Adam is given the Lonelyhearts column, which is not exactly what he was hoping for. He is resented by another writer, an older, grumpy man who had wanted the Lonelyhearts rubric and who hates editor Shrike.
Adam has a cute girlfriend, Justy Sargent. Her family is a happy one. It consists of her father and two nice brothers. Justy is played by Dolores Hart -- an actress with a short career. In some ways she may remind you somewhat of Grace Kelly or of Dorothy McGuire.
Improbably but convincingly, Adam gets involved in his job almost right away, so much so that he feels for many of those sending in sad letters. This in turn leads to complications.
=====SPOILERS. If you do not wish to learn the plot, skip the next 5 paragraphs=====
Adam tells all that he is an orphan. At one point, already engaged to Justy, he announces to her that next Sunday he will visit the orphanage in which he was raised. In reality, he goes on one of his periodic jail visits to his convict father. The old man has been in prison for 25 years, after killing his wife and her lover caught together in bed. It is a melancholy visit.There is nothing in common between father and son.
Later Adam and Shrike have a talk. The editor is convinced that all letter-writers are fakes, "like us, the newspaper people." He even dares Adam to meet in person one of them.
Adam does visits one, the working-class, mid-thirtyish Fay Doyle (Maureen Stapleton). Her story of distress is that Pat Doyle, her husband of eleven years, was crippled by a shipyard accident seven years ago and has had not had sex with her since then. Somehow the reporter and the woman have sex. Soon after Fay turns posessive, with an ugly behavior.
In a bar, Adam Adam meets Pat Doyle who tells him that Fay makes up stories about him. At that bar, which is frequented by Shrike and his wife, Adam, a nondrinker,sits with them and gets pretty tight. He tells Shrike:"You're right, they're fakes and frauds."
He then confesses to his fiancee what had happened and splits with her.Fay attacks her husband who is indeed a cripple but not sexually we [resume. He flees to get a gun. But the ending is murderless, the young couple are reunited and so are, probably, Shrike and his wife.
====================RESUME READING =======================
This film brought Maureen Stapleton, in her debut role, an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Clift's acting is very good as usual, in fact reinforced by his disfigured face and what was in reality a soul in turmoil and sadness. The director, Vincent J. Donehue, also makes a strong debut, but I do not know what else he did later on except for "Sunrise at Campobello," produced by Dore Schary from his own play, in 1960.
Schary, an important Hollywood figure as screenwriter and especially producer, also wrote the script and produced "Lonelyhearts." It was his first movie after his second tenure at MGM.
The few weaknesses of "Lonelyhearts," which are inherited from the book, are minor and well hidden. Such as the symbolic obviousness of the names White and Shrike. Such as the too neat, misogynist arrangement of cheating wives (Loy, Stapleton and Adam's unnamed mother). Also the pat contrast between them and the happy but wifeless, motherless Sargent family. Such as the overdrawn character of Robert Ryan. Adam tells him early on: "You're guilty of a sin. Giant size. You are cynical." Ryan's bitterness and cynicism are rather overdone, and one wonders whether they are strictly the result of his marital contretemps or have been there forever. There is also the newspaper, The Chronicle, which looks like a small operation in cramped quarters where we see only three reporters and editor, whereas the Shrike couple looks wealthy.
These are minor points though. The movie is a plus overall and stays with you.