“13 Reasons Why,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and the Agony of Loneliness

A few months back, I was with my dad at a small Los Angeles cafe. My dad suddenly had a wide grin on his face. He recognized someone. I looked over at an older man holding his laptop. My dad said to him, “Excuse me, but are you Chuck McCann?” He smiled and replied, “I used to be.” We had a lovely twenty-minute conversation with him and afterwards I asked my dad, “Who is Chuck McCann?”

As a result of this unexpected interaction, my dad showed me a small, independent sixties film called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCann has a small, but important role in the film. This was one of those times, just like with Caught, where I felt that click when you discover a forgotten film, when you’re genuinely moved and completely absorbed in the story that’s being told.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers follows John Singer (Alan Arkin), a deaf and mute silverware engraver. He lives a pretty quiet existence. His only real friend is a mentally challenged man named Spiros (Chuck McCann). When Spiros is put in a mental institution a few towns over, Singer uproots his life and moves into a family’s home where he befriends their sixteen year-old daughter, Mick (Sondra Locke). As usual, drama ensues…but this is slightly quieter drama.

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So polite and nice calligraphy, RIGHT?

Here are just a few reasons why you need to see The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

The Cast

Alan Arkin carries this film. At the time he made this, he was just starting out, having just made the film which made him: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming! He was an interesting choice for the part as we usually think of Arkin in a comic and verbal context…or maybe that’s just cause I know him best from Little Miss Sunshine. Either way, Arkin delivers possibly his greatest performance without uttering one word. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film, but lost to Cliff Robertson.

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His expression is EVERYTHING

Sondra Locke is also a revelation in this film. At 21 years old, Locke gave Mick a vulnerability and toughness that I daresay, most actresses today don’t have. She was the perfect counterpart to Arkin. They complimented each other. Though she didn’t go on to be a movie star, she’s continued to work in the film industry as an actor and producer. Locke was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to Ruth Gordon.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film

Chuck McCann’s screen time may be a short, but he certainly makes his mark in the film. He was known for most of his career as a comic actor, but this film showcases his dramatic range. He is also famous for having a relationship with Stan Laurel. He apparently just found his number in the phone book and called him up. Fascinating…

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All Chuck McCann’s character wants to do this in this film is eat and I totally get it. 

Percy Rodrigues, Cicely Tyson, and Stacy Keach also give great supporting performances.

The Story

I had not read McCullers book when I saw the film, but feel compelled now to do so. Similarly to To Kill a Mockingbird, McCullers book discusses the South as well as racism and other social issues. To me, the film is ultimately about what it feels like to be lonely. It’s less about the plot and more how these significantly different people deal with their loneliness.

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No overacting. Arkin, man. He’s great.

In this way, the film reminds me of Netflix’s recent adaptation of the YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Everything Arkin’s Singer does is to bring people closer together. Even though ultimately, he’ll never feel that closeness with the people around him, he tries to help people where he can, even when he’s met with derision and anger. In 13 Reasons Why, the real message to take away is that our actions matter, both in positive and negative ways. We never know what anguish and pain the people around us are going through, but in our small way, we can do our part to make their lives a little brighter.

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“We have to do better.” – Clay

The Direction

In true indie style, you’ve probably never heard of the director of this film. I hadn’t. His name was Robert Ellis Miller and he actually passed away in January of this year. He directed the film very much like a play. He let moments play out organically. You never felt like you were being manipulated. It all felt genuine and real.

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So sweet

Carson McCullers

I think it’s amazing that Carson McCullers got this published at the age of 22. Her life was filled with pain. She attempted suicide, but was not successful. Carson had a tumultuous childhood and a rough adulthood, which was cut short when she died of a brain hemorrhage, just before filming began for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As such, I think there’s a melancholy nature to all her works, but especially this novel. She took her pain and turned it into something meaningful, art that serves as a reminder that we all experience loneliness and that feeling that way is part of the human experience.

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She’s also famous for “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a poignant portrait of what it’s like to feel lonely.

It’s completely forgotten, but I don’t find its themes any less relevant than those expressed in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. We all get lonely to different degrees and we truly can all do our part to reach out and connect with the people around us. In this strange age we’re in, I think this film’s message is of the utmost importance.

 

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.

 

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Why ‘Somewhere in Time’ is a severely underrated period romance

It’s difficult for me to remember exactly when I first saw Somewhere in Time. Funnily enough, it was made the year after another time travel favorite of mine, Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time. However, this one is very different. It’s an old school romance with an intriguing premise that you can’t help but get swept up in (or, at least, I can’t!).

If you’re unfamiliar, Somewhere in Time follows Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), a playwright suffering from writer’s block. He decides to get out of town for a bit, visiting his old college town and staying at a historic hotel. He sees a photo of an actress, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) in the hotel’s hall of history and falls in love with the girl. Only one problem: she’s dead. His obsession turns dramatic. He talks to an old professor, asking if it’s possible to travel through time. He essentially tricks his mind into believing he is back in 1912 (Don’t think too hard about the time travel logistics. It makes no sense obvi). Once back in time, he begins his steamy affair with Elise, much to the dismay of her manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plummer). Will it be Robinson who tears them apart or time?? You have to watch the movie to find out!

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I’m OBSESSED with the early 20th century fashion. I WANT A FAN!

Here are just a few reasons Somewhere in Time is SEVERELY underrated:

The Cast

Christopher Reeve was HOT (both physically and in the industry), having already starred in his most popular role of Superman! He turned down several movies around this time, looking for something specific. There’s something about his sincerity that makes this character and this film work. Is it the plot convoluted and nuts? Um, yes. But, for some reason, you look into Mr. Reeve’s eyes and you’re like, Okay, sure. He’s sweet and romantic and very swoon worthy!

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He’s a bit self-assured. I think the message is, time traveling gives you confidence…

Jane Seymour was in her late twenties at the time she made this and was (and still is) absolutely drop dead gorgeous! Seriously, though, she belongs on the cover of romance novels which is probably one reason why she got the part. Additionally, she has the acting chops to back it up – she is tough, but also naive and vulnerable and you fall in love with her (just as Richard does) instantly!

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In the early 20th century, taking your down = SEDUCTION. 

Christopher Plummer is also wonderful as Elise’s manager. He was, of course, known at the time for his role as Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He’s deliciously wicked as the Mr. Robinson, but you sense that there’s more to him than that, a compliment to his nuanced performance!

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What is he really thinking? 

The Score, the score, the SCOREEE!

I’m sorry, did I say the score one too many times? Well, if you had heard even one minute of John Barry’s score, I think you’d probably be screaming too. It’s difficult for me to parcel out how much of my love for this film is related to the score. I believe it elevates every aspect of the film. Apparently, or at least according to the TCM article, Jane Seymour was the one responsible for getting John Barry on board. I can’t imagine this film without this music. They belong to one another. Seriously, just give it a listen:

The Story/Script

Alright, so I know it’s far fetched. And yes, I know it’s cheesy, but for some reason, it really does work. Trust me. Writer Richard Matheson, who wrote both the novel and the screenplay got the idea when he came across photos of a young actress from the early 20th century, Maude Adams. Her biggest claim to fame: she was the first actress to play Peter Pan.

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Quite beautiful, no?

What I love about Matheson’s time travel concept is that it’s all about the mind. It’s a form of hypnosis, not a machine. As a kid, I remember REALLY buying into it. I was like, Sure, you can time travel just by shoving everything modern into a closet and dressing in old timey clothes!

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As a child, this scene both scared me to death and intrigued me beyond belief.

The romance is that Romeo and Juliet, love-at-first-sight type of deal. But, again, somehow, through the performances, you buy it and you root for them!

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A BIT dramatic…but I LOVE IT! ❤ ❤ ❤

The Gorgeous Early 20th Century Costumes

For real, I think I am one of those girls seduced by costume dramas and the thing is, the costumes in this are so pretty, you can’t NOT be obsessed with them!

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So refined and gorgeous. THAT HAT THOUGH!

The beautiful cinematography!

There are many ways to illustrate that the time period has changed. What cinematographer Isidore Mankovsky did was use a sepia-toned filter for all the the 1912 scenes. Mind you, modern audiences apparently didn’t take too well to that. But, I think it was a wonderful choice, almost like being in a picture, in a dream!

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GORGEOUS!!

The Major Flaw: THE WATCH

Alright, so full disclosure, this film does have one major flaw. In the beginning of the film, Christopher Reeve is given a watch by old Elise in the 1970’s. He takes it with him back in time, and (spoiler alert!) leaves it there with Elise. So, the big question is, where does the watch start? Like, seriously, where the fuck did this pocketwatch come from? That seems to be one thing we’ll never know!

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This watch is magical I guess?

It’s a sweeping, underrated, moody period romance! 

Despite its convoluted premise, Somewhere in Time is a severely underrated gem. It was actually a flop when it was originally released and then found its cult audience through repeated cable viewings. Now, there’s actually an annual event at the Grand Hotel honoring the film and you can bet that’s on my list of things to do (once I become a millionaire of course! LOL).

Is it utterly ludicrous? Yes. But, I think that’s where its magic comes from. It epitomizes what I believe all storytelling should set out to do: capture the imagination.

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LOL this scene. 

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and gifs property of Universal Pictures.