The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)

124 mins | Drama | 31 July 1968

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HISTORY

The 14 Jun 1950 Var announced that documentary producers William and Helen Levitt, Sidney Meyers, and Janis Loeb were embarking on their first 35mm theatrical feature, an adaptation of Carson McCullers’s first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, a critically acclaimed 1940 best-seller. The four were “currently dickering for outside financing” for what they estimated to be a $200,000 film.
       Eleven years later, stage director Jose Quintero hoped to shoot The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter as a low-budget independent film, from a script by British screenwriter Gavin Lambert, according to the 11 Oct 1961 NYT and 12 Oct 1961 DV. Quintero wanted to film in the South, and expressed interest in hiring actors Paul Scofield, Zero Mostel, and Montgomery Clift. Two years later, the 1 Mar 1963 DV and 21 Apr 1963 NYT reported that producer David Susskind had taken over the project, but had a new screenplay by Thomas C. Ryan. Susskind planned to shoot The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in New York City with director Sidney Lumet, and said that Zero Mostel and Montgomery Clift were still interested, as was Peter Falk, who flew to New York to discuss one of the roles with Lumet. Clift, as “John Singer,” was the linchpin of the production, but because of his erratic behavior and bad health, no insurance company would cover him. Several months later, as noted in the 23 Aug 1963 DV and 17 Nov 1963 Var, independent producer Ely Landau optioned the project as part of a three-picture deal with Sidney Lumet, and shooting ... More Less

The 14 Jun 1950 Var announced that documentary producers William and Helen Levitt, Sidney Meyers, and Janis Loeb were embarking on their first 35mm theatrical feature, an adaptation of Carson McCullers’s first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, a critically acclaimed 1940 best-seller. The four were “currently dickering for outside financing” for what they estimated to be a $200,000 film.
       Eleven years later, stage director Jose Quintero hoped to shoot The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter as a low-budget independent film, from a script by British screenwriter Gavin Lambert, according to the 11 Oct 1961 NYT and 12 Oct 1961 DV. Quintero wanted to film in the South, and expressed interest in hiring actors Paul Scofield, Zero Mostel, and Montgomery Clift. Two years later, the 1 Mar 1963 DV and 21 Apr 1963 NYT reported that producer David Susskind had taken over the project, but had a new screenplay by Thomas C. Ryan. Susskind planned to shoot The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in New York City with director Sidney Lumet, and said that Zero Mostel and Montgomery Clift were still interested, as was Peter Falk, who flew to New York to discuss one of the roles with Lumet. Clift, as “John Singer,” was the linchpin of the production, but because of his erratic behavior and bad health, no insurance company would cover him. Several months later, as noted in the 23 Aug 1963 DV and 17 Nov 1963 Var, independent producer Ely Landau optioned the project as part of a three-picture deal with Sidney Lumet, and shooting was initially set to begin in New York City on 16 Sept 1963. Warren Beatty was “tentatively set to star,” but the project was held up indefinitely. Nothing came of any of these projects.
       Four years later, the 8 Feb 1967 Var announced that television producer Marc Merson’s Brownstone Productions had taken over the film rights to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter with the intention of shooting Thomas C. Ryan’s original script, with Ryan co-producing. Filming would begin in Georgia in Sep 1967, and New York stage actor Alan Arkin, who was suddenly “hot” because of his comic role in the popular The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966, see entry), was set to play John Singer. Ryan told the 26 Mar 1967 NYT he wrote the screenplay five years earlier, but “deeply believed in” the novel long before that. McCullers’s story “is a thing of beauty and truth and we hope to capture this in the film,” he said. Alan Arkin was also an admirer of the book, and “jumped at the chance to play Singer,” according to producer Merson. Although the 1 Jun 1967 DV broke the news that the project’s new producer, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, Inc. had tapped Mark Rydell to direct the $1-million film, Merson hired Joseph Strick. For the important role of “Mick,” described as an “unspoiled, 14-year-old tomboy, not beautiful but appealing, not grown up but not a child,” Strick and casting director Marion Dougherty sidestepped the usual crop of polished, professional teen-age actresses by holding a “cattle call” in New York City, open to everyone. The 13 Jul 1967 NYT reported that “165 unknown and would-be actresses” auditioned on the first day. A month later, according to the 16 Aug 1967 Var, Dougherty set up further auditions in Atlanta, GA, as scouts looked for locations around the state, especially in Savannah and Carson McCullers’s hometown of Columbus, where the story took place. Filming was set to begin in Sep 1967 and last for six to eight weeks.
       By the following month, however, the company moved to Selma, AL, a town of 28,000 people and turn-of-the-century neighborhoods that had not changed much over the years. Selma was notorious for its “Bloody Sunday” during the Deep South’s “Voting Rights Movement” in 1965, when county deputies and state troopers attacked marchers with tear gas and clubs. Selma Mayor Joe Smitherman told the 23 Aug 1967 Var that his “peaceful, law-abiding community” expected no difficulties with the production’s “racially-mixed cast,” because everyone was welcome in Selma and would be “treated fairly within the law.” He took the opportunity to compare Selma—“the safest place to be”—with cities in the North, where “you all are burning up the place up there,” referring to several recent race riots. Smitherman convinced the Selma Chamber of Commerce to embrace the film production because of its economic benefits. He also stressed that the film would be “a publicity advantage” to a town known nationally for its segregationist violence. Furthermore, the Depression-era story had “nothing to do with a civil rights story as such.”
       The 29 Aug 1967 DV announced a starting date of 18 Sep 1967, but Joseph Strick held up the production over creative differences and finally walked off. Thomas Ryan later told the 10 Dec 1967 NYT that Strick “wanted a decidedly homosexual interpretation to [Singer’s] love for the Greek. He saw [the movie] very downbeat, depressing. He even wanted the scenes filmed in gray.” Robert Ellis Miller was sent to Selma to replace him. Comic actor Jackie Vernon, presumably hired to portray “Spiros Antonapoulos,” left the film soon afterward.
       Miller, the new director, later told the 1 Sep 1968 LAT that the production had to gain the local residents’ trust. “We went on radio and local TV for interviews nearly every day for the first two weeks to convince them” the film was not being made to “exploit their reputation.” Many citizens went out of their way to display Selma’s positive side. The city fire department lent its new fire engine with an eighty-five-foot crane to director of photography James Wong Howe for a carnival ferris wheel scene. Christmas decorations were removed from the main street during filming. Miller stated that members of the production agreed not to go anywhere the black actors could not go. Upon replacing Joseph Strick, Miller said he “changed the costumes and some of the casting.” He and Ryan also rewrote the script as they went along, and rehearsed the changes with actors at night. Along with Alan Arkin, Miller learned enough American Sign Language to be aware of continuity during editing. An article in the 10 Dec 1967 NYT described the film company’s headquarters as “an old B. F. Goodrich tire store next to the bus depot,” just a few blocks from the Pettus Bridge where state troopers violently stopped Dr. Martin Luther King’s peace march in 1965. One of the main sets, the “Kelly” boardinghouse, was a deserted Victorian residence that rented for $125 a month. Since the story took place during summer, the actors had to wear thin clothing in what was sometimes freezing weather, and occasionally their breath was visible. Lawns were sprayed green. For the role of “Mick Kelly’s” boyfriend, “Harry,” director Miller hired a local college student, Wayne Smith. Also discovered was young Sondra Locke from Shelbyville, TN, who drove to Birmingham, AL, for a casting call and was then taken to New York City for a final audition. Actress Bonnie Bedelia confided to the 8 Oct 1967 LAT that “they decided I was too old” when she auditioned for the same part as Locke. As it turned out, Bedelia was four years younger than Locke, who had lied about her age in order to more appropriately portray the fourteen-year-old tomboy.
       Along with Sondra Locke and Wayne Smith, Stacy Keach, Jr. made his theatrical film debut in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. He thereafter dropped the “junior” from his name.
       Just as production began, Carson McCullers, who had been in a coma for several weeks, died in Nyack, NY, on 29 Sep 1967 at the age of fifty.
       The film had a twin world premiere at two New York City theaters on 10 Jul 1968, the 11 Jul 1968 DV noted. Critical reception was mixed. The 30 Jul 1968 DV called it “fragmented episodic melodrama, with uneven dramatic impact and formula pacing.” The 1 Aug 1968 NYT commented that the script did not satisfactorily update the 1940 novel at a time when race relations in the segregated South were changing, and that “accommodating modern sensibilities” and “political awareness” to the story weakened the plot and the characters’ motivations. When the film opened on 20 Nov 1968 in Los Angeles, CA, that day’s LAT declared that “despite some marvelous performances, something has been lost in the translation from Mrs. McCullers’ novel.” The film did reasonably well at the box office, and the 1 Jan 1969 Var reported that the film was breaking even on its modest budget.
       The film received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Alan Arkin), and Actress in a Supporting Role (Sondra Locke). More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
12 Oct 1961
p. 1.
Daily Variety
1 Mar 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1963
p.. 2.
Daily Variety
1 Jun 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1967
p. 1, 10.
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
11 Dec 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Dec 1967
p. 2.
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
30 Jul 1968
p. 8.
Daily Variety
30 Jul 1968
p. 3, 8.
Los Angeles Times
30 Sep 1967
p. 5.
Los Angeles Times
8 Oct 1967
p. 1, 15, 16.
Los Angeles Times
1 Sep 1968
Section C, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
20 Nov 1968
Section G, p. 15.
New York Times
11 Oct 1961
p. 51.
New York Times
21 Apr 1963.
---
New York Times
26 Mar 1967
p. 89.
New York Times
13 Jul 1967
p. 30.
New York Times
10 Dec 1967
p. 17, 19.
New York Times
1 Aug 1968
p. 24.
Variety
14 Jun 1950
p. 7.
Variety
24 Apr 1968
p. 25, 44.
Variety
22 May 1963
p. 17.
Variety
17 Nov 1963
p. 3.
Variety
8 Feb 1967
p. 21.
Variety
5 Jul 1967
p. 60.
Variety
16 Aug 1967
p.16.
Variety
23 Aug 1967
p. 1, 52.
Variety
27 Sep 1967
p. 11.
Variety
29 Nov 1967
p. 13.
Variety
11 Dec 1968
p. 19.
Variety
1 Jan 1969
p. 3, 22.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st & 2nd asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Selections from symphony no. 41
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Prod secy
Sign lang instr
Prop master
Prop master
Key grip
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (Boston, 1940).
DETAILS
Release Date:
31 July 1968
Premiere Information:
New York premiere and opening: 31 July 1968
Los Angeles opening: 20 November 1968
Production Date:
began late September 1967
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros.--Seven Arts, Inc.
Copyright Date:
10 October 1968
Copyright Number:
LP36781
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
124
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

John Singer is a deaf mute who works as a silverware engraver in a small southern town. When his only companion, a retarded mute, Antonapoulos, is committed to a mental institution, Singer moves to another town in order to be near his friend. He finds work there and rents a room in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, who are having financial difficulties as a result of Mr. Kelly's recent hip injury. Because the Kellys' 14-year-old daughter, Mick, resents having to give up her room to him, Singer makes a few tentative efforts to win her friendship. He also tries to establish a rapport with Blount, a semi-alcoholic drifter, and Dr. Copeland, an embittered segregationist Negro who is secretly dying of cancer. Copeland's deepest disappointment is that his educated daughter, Portia, works as a domestic and is married to Willie Hamilton, a field hand. Following a successful attempt to win Mick's friendship by encouraging her love for classical music, Singer visits Antonapoulos, who is now suffering from a kidney infection. Although he takes his friend out for the day, Singer is more lonely than ever when he returns home. Meanwhile, Willie is jailed for defending himself against a group of white men, and subsequently he has a leg amputated after being placed in irons for trying to break jail. Feelings between Portia and her father become even more strained until Portia learns from Singer of Copeland's illness, and the two are reconciled. Mick willfully loses her virginity to Harry, the sensitive young brother of one of her classmates, when she realizes that her father's injury has permanently disabled him and she will have to leave school and go ... +


John Singer is a deaf mute who works as a silverware engraver in a small southern town. When his only companion, a retarded mute, Antonapoulos, is committed to a mental institution, Singer moves to another town in order to be near his friend. He finds work there and rents a room in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, who are having financial difficulties as a result of Mr. Kelly's recent hip injury. Because the Kellys' 14-year-old daughter, Mick, resents having to give up her room to him, Singer makes a few tentative efforts to win her friendship. He also tries to establish a rapport with Blount, a semi-alcoholic drifter, and Dr. Copeland, an embittered segregationist Negro who is secretly dying of cancer. Copeland's deepest disappointment is that his educated daughter, Portia, works as a domestic and is married to Willie Hamilton, a field hand. Following a successful attempt to win Mick's friendship by encouraging her love for classical music, Singer visits Antonapoulos, who is now suffering from a kidney infection. Although he takes his friend out for the day, Singer is more lonely than ever when he returns home. Meanwhile, Willie is jailed for defending himself against a group of white men, and subsequently he has a leg amputated after being placed in irons for trying to break jail. Feelings between Portia and her father become even more strained until Portia learns from Singer of Copeland's illness, and the two are reconciled. Mick willfully loses her virginity to Harry, the sensitive young brother of one of her classmates, when she realizes that her father's injury has permanently disabled him and she will have to leave school and go to work in order to help support the family. Profoundly disturbed by her sexual initiation, she again rejects Singer's friendship. A short time later, Singer goes to visit Antonapoulos and learns that he has been dead for several weeks. After visiting his friend's grave and saying goodby in sign language, Singer returns to his room and commits suicide. Some months thereafter, Mick brings flowers to Singer's grave and meets Dr. Copeland. As they talk, Mick explains that in a special way Singer's quiet strength has given her courage to face whatever her future may be. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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