Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART


NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART (1944). Director: Clifford Odets.

"Love's not for the poor, son. No time for it."

This is one of only two films directed by playwright/screenwriter Clifford Odets, and frankly you expect more from a man with his talent. The first problem is that Odets was adapting someone else's novel, and the second is that Odets the director wasn't a little tougher on Odets the screenwriter. To be blunt, despite a good idea and some nice moments, None But the Lonely Heart is a talky bore.

Ernie Mott (Cary Grant) wants to live free and independent, but when he learns that his Ma (Ethel Barrymore) is dying of cancer, he decides to stick around and help her run her shop. Although there's a nice, uncomplicated girl, Aggie, who loves him unconditionally ["I wouldn't trade it for a box at the opera, the thing I feel for you," she tells him], Ernie gets involved with the much more complicated Ada (June Duprez). Ada is still very much connected to her brutal mobster ex-husband Jim (George Coulouris).

The problem with the plot is that the whole business of a basically nice guy getting involved
with a slick operator (in this case, Jim) to make money was pretty much old hat by 1944. In an earlier decade Mott would have been played by James Cagney and in a later decade Jim would have been enacted by Steve Cochran. In all the directions that the film could have gone, it chooses the most trite one.

The film is never convincing and is sentimental in the wrong way. Grant gives a very good performance, but he isn't exactly believable as a cockney or as someone from the lower classes; he's too old and too sophisticated by far. Barrymore is wonderful as Ma Mott, but even she is a touch too lady-like. Wyatt gives another lovely -- if brief -- performance as Aggie, and June Duprez does okay as Ada. Coulouris is on the money as Jim. An uncredited Queenie Vassar offers a vivid portrait of the larcenous Mrs. Snowden, and Konstantin Shayne and Barry Fitzgerald enact important supporting roles with aplomb.

Verdict: Disjointed disappointment, but with a great theme by Tchaikovsky. **.

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