Judge Daryl Loomis knows that the owner of a lonely heart is much better than the owner of a broken heart.
There's lots of love in you, Ernie. It just needs an object.
Cary Grant (His Girl Friday) was one of the finest actors in the history of Hollywood, but skill or no skill didn't stop the studios from pigeonholing him as the lead in romantic comedies. He badly wanted to act in dramas, and finally got his chance with None But the Lonely Heart. It was a film Grant was always proud of, and he gave quite an impressive performance, but studio heads were not so impressed by the box office receipts. The studios were not keen on giving him another shot, and back to getting the girl he went.
Facts of the Case
Rapscallion layabout Ernie Mott (Grant) has just returned home from tramping about England, but his mother (Ethel Barrymore, The Great Sinner) suspects he's only back for some money. They'd never gotten along, so they start fighting again right away, and he's about to leave when she tries to convince him to stay and help run her pawn shop. When she confesses her cancer to him, he begins to warm to the idea. In staying, he meets the girl of his dreams, but he still has no money and risks it all by turning to crime to afford her.
Based on the book by Richard Llewellyn (who also wrote the novel How Green Was My Valley), None But the Lonely Heart is a depressing little tale, but the performances are a delight to watch. This was a story close to Cary Grant's heart. The hard-scrabble character of Ernie Mott was much like the Archie Leach he grew up as and the setting was one he grew up around. He seems very natural and comfortable in the role. This is one of the more conflicted men he played in his career, and the character's shades of gray allow him to spread out his acting wings a little bit.
Grant's skill becomes especially apparent when working alongside the legendary Ethel Barrymore, returning to Hollywood after more than a decade on stage. Their verbal sparring is on par with anything he did with Kathryn Hepburn, but it feels much different here. Ernie's arguments with his mom reveal a lifetime of mistrust and animosity. Mrs. Mott resents her son for sponging off of her, but he is still her son, so she lets it happen and her resentment for him grows. Ernie's not exactly easy to defend. He comes and goes as he pleases, and cares little for what that does to his mother. He doesn't respect her continued sacrifice in making sure that he's okay and is much more concerned with what she can offer him now. With the reveal of Mrs. Mott's sickness, though, Ernie sees his chance at redemption.
The people Ernie meets and the places he goes make up the sad heart of the film. No one in None But the Lonely Heart has a sadder heart than Ada (June Duprez, The Thief of Bagdad), the woman who Ernie falls for. Ada has a whole separate set of problems from the Motts. She is divorced from Jim Mordinoy (George Coulouris, Citizen Kane), a big man in the underworld. He still wants her, and doesn't want anybody else horning in on what he sees as his territory. Knowing that Mott is poor and in love with his ex, Mordinoy sees an opportunity. He offers Ernie a job as one of his thugs, understanding that Ada will refuse to be with a criminal and Jim will regain his advantage to possess her. The road Ernie follows proves his downfall. The film wraps on a satisfyingly down note. It's rare to see a film end like this today, let alone in 1944 and, sad as the whole thing made me, I appreciate the novelty.
June Duprez is simply fantastic in the role of Ada, sweet and pretty, but deadly sad, like she's on the verge of offing herself at any moment. She has an amazing charm and a sensitivity in her voice that's hard to describe, as though the closer she comes to tears, the more she falls in love. She's a fantastic foil for Grant, and her role in the unexpected ending of the film makes for a strangely bittersweet tragedy. George Coulouris mirrors her personality very well as the friendly, scummy Mordinoy. He's the opportunist who ruins everything for everybody, all with an aloof smile and the complete freedom to do whatever he wants. He's a warm villain who mostly seems reasonable, but can't accept that somebody else loves Ada. Additionally, Dan Duryea (Scarlet Street), one of my all-time favorite character actors, has a great early role as one of Mordinoy's thugs with some very funny lines. Director Clifford Odets (The Story on Page One) doesn't add a lot of style to the film, but doesn't get in the way of the actors either. He wrote the film as well as directed, and proves stronger as a writer. The script is well-paced and there are some fantastic individual pieces of dialog.
None But the Lonely Heart is a top shelf production all around. It's a shame that moviegoers couldn't accept Grant as a pure dramatic actor, but they had been led into the notion of what he should have been. It's failure at the box office meant that Grant would find little in this vein for the remainder of his career. He had a knack for it, and that's too bad.
I guess I should be thanking Warner Bros. for making their deep catalog available under the Warner Archives online label, but the ingrate that I am knows that many of these films, None But the Lonely Heart included, deserve more than they're getting. Technically, the disc performs somewhat better than a good VHS tape. It looks relatively clear, but there is enough scratching and grain to make it off-putting. The contrast scale is generally fine, though it is sometimes tough to make everything out in the brighter scenes. The mono sound is decent, nothing special. There are no extras.
It's too bad Cary Grant didn't appear in more straight dramas, because he's excellent through and through in None But the Lonely Heart. Great all around performances bolster the slow and sad story. I wish Warner Bros. deemed the film worthy enough for a proper release, but I can still recommend the film.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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