Lonelyhearts (1958)

“My wife likes lonely young men.”

The film Lonelyhearts stars Montgomery Clift as Adam White, a young man who tries desperately to get a job working for the Chronicle newspaper. He befriends Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy), the lonely wife of the newspaper editor in a bar, and since he doesn’t get anywhere with the paper through the normal channels, Adam hangs around the bar with Florence waiting for the opportunity to make his case for employment with her husband.

Adam and Shrike (Robert Ryan) finally meet, and Adam is given a job. Unfortunately, it’s not the job he’s imagined, and he’s assigned the new Miss Lonelyhearts column giving lonely readers advice. Adam’s girlfriend, Justy (Dolores Hart) tries to remain optimistic and insists that the column is just the beginning of something better, but Adam has a difficult time with his new job. Many of the letters are depressing and hopeless, but other reporters in the office find great hilarity in the painful letters received by the paper.

It soon becomes apparent that Shrike’s relationship with Adam is a complicated one. The cynical Shrike, who mouths only bitter statements about the human race, considers Adam a “fraud.” Shrike’s marriage is poisoned by adultery, and Shrike’s bitterness now encompasses all humankind. In many ways, Adam serves as Shrike’s alter ego, and Shrike waits for the destruction of Adam’s idealism as if he has a personal stake in Adam’s loss of faith in human nature. Shrike sees Adam as a “scribbling punk trying to play the part of goody-two-shoes” and while he goads Adam at every opportunity, these cynical diatribes seem strangely self-destructive. And ultimately the key to Shrike’s redemption is inexorably entwined with Adam’s idealism.

Adam is quiet, retiring and damaged–all of these elements create a character that is not easy to play, and as a result Clift looks shell-shocked for most of the film. The film is based on the novel Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West, and a great deal of the novel’s bite has been removed in this script. As a result, the film is simultaneously more palatable–and much less interesting.

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