The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

To say that the 1968 cinematic adaptation of Carson McCullers's 1940 debut novel betrays and misinterprets this seedy, existentially troubled and troubling southern gothic is merely to reconfirm Hollywood's standard modus operandi, levied against one classic novel after another. McCullers's novel lies in direct line of descent from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel -- a coeval of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County tales, it points toward the work of Flannery O'Connor and Ray Bradbury. Mick Kelly, a young girl with dreams of becoming a composer, and John Singer, a deaf-mute engraver, represent two strains of innocence forced to contend with cruel circumstance. One collapses, and one is strengthened, in a tale that recognizes nobility but never cringes from sordidness or despair. Thomas C. Ryan's script sacrifices much of the rich interiority accompanying their trials -- Sondra Locke's Mick has been reduced in this conception to a more sensitive Gidget -- along with the substance of several key supporting characters. While a quarter-century shift in the era of the story makes a hash of plot points, the most problematic decision was to privilege the role of Singer (Alan Arkin). Elevated from a slender if thematically important role in McCullers's original, Singer is onscreen almost continually as a whimsical free spirit who liberates all whom he touches -- and who suffers a fate that seems baffling in its new context. But, judged on its own merits, Ellis's film has much to recommend it. At age 20, Locke still radiates a teenager's exuberance and gawky physicality, especially in the party scenes. Arkin meets the great challenge of his wordless role with a bold confidence; he is so convincing that when he bursts into wild grunts at a moment of crisis, shock ensues in both the characters and audience. Deft direction and slick camerawork reward the eye, leaving us with a film that deserves to be seen, if only to drive viewers back to McCullers's masterpiece. -

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.

Landline

What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.