Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is one of those movies that shows up often enough on TCM, but that for some reason I'd never gotten around to watching. It showed up back in April during 31 Days of Oscar, so I recorded it then. It's going to be on again tomorrow, June 6, at 5:45 PM, and with that in mind I made it a point to watch the movie to do a blog post on now.

Alan Arkin stars as John Singer, a deaf-mute who works as a jewelry engraver in a small southern town and has as his best friend another deaf-mute, Antonapoulos (Chuck McCann) who, for whatever reason, uses his deafness as an excuse to get into trouble. His dad has had more than enough of this, as it's gotten him mixed up with the law one too many times, so he decides to have Antonapoulos committed to the state mental hospital. It's suggested to Singer that he move to the town to be closer to his friend.

In his new town, somewhere in Georgia or Alabama (IMDb lists Selma, AL as the filming location although the characters talk about going to Atlanta), John finds a house that's got a room to let, owned by the Kellys. Dad (Biff McGuire) is on disability with a bad hip, and Mom has let out the room because, frankly, the famliy needs the money. Their daughter Mick (Sondra Locke) doesn't realize just how dire the family's financial straits are, and has dreams of greatness that we all know in a small town like this are never going to come true.

John, even though he can't speak, can read lips, so he can generally tell what other people are saying, which enables him to make friends, even though none of them can really understand him since they don't know any form of sign language. In addition to being sympathetic to Mick, who takes a liking to John as a result, John meets the town drunk, Blount (Stacy Keach), who mistakes John's deafness as being a really good listener. But when he finds out the truth, Blount too likes John.

And then there's Dr. Copeland (Percy Rodrigues). John witnesses Blount getting beaten and takes him to the nearest doctor, who happens to be Copeland. There's just one problem, though. The patient is white, and Copeland is black. John can't understand why this might be a problem, but Copeland already has a problem with being seen as getting ideas above his station, and treating white patients, even in an emergency like this, is going to make people talk about him. Eventually, Copeland agrees to treat Blount in exchange for John's going along with Copeland on his house calls to a deaf patient.

Copeland has other problems, too, in that he has a daughter Portia (Cicely Tyson) whom he groomed to follow in his footsteps as a doctor and perhaps achieve a higher social station what with the changing times being more accepting of black people. But Portia married a farm hand and took a more traditional role for black people at the time. Dad hates both his daughter and her husband as a result.

Blount is eventually able to get a job at the local carnival, and this brings him into contact with Portia and Willie when they patronize the place. But a couple of white folks pick a fight with Portia and Willie, and when Blount takes the black couple's side, it lands him in prison even though the white guys instigated all the violence.

Meanwhile, is growing up and wants more grown-up things, hosting a party and finding that one of the boys there, two years her senior, takes a romantic interest in her. Mick's and the other people's stories converge, more or less.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a well-made movie, with excellent acting performances. But I have to admit that I didn't care for the ending, which I found baffling and didn't quite make sense. However, I'm sure there are going to be other people out there who appreciate the ending more than I do. Even though I didn't particularly like the abrupt ending, I can still definitely recommend the movie.

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