Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Directed by Robert Ellis Miller
Starring: Alan Arkin, Sondra Locke, Biff McGuire, Laurinda Barrett, Stacy Keach
Grade: C

A film about a deaf mute, the most striking feature of ‘Hunter’ is its constant reinforcement of disability as an ennobling fate to befall a person; the loving patriarch of the family Arkin’s John lodges with is confined to a wheelchair, while the humble husband of a middle-class black woman has to have one of his legs chopped off. Social and racial pressures were a big concern in this period (lest we forget the Best Picture win for “In the Heat of the Night” the year before this) but the dramatic beats in ‘Hunter’ feel like soapy elements unrelated to the inner troubles of our central protagonist. It’s almost as if somebody thought it too bold to spend an entire film focussing on a man unable to talk, the film eventually justifying how unconcerned it is with John by asserting that nobody really knows him at all, which reads as a pretty huge copout to me. Still, there is at least the lovely presence of wallflower Sondra Locke to usher some real truths out of the script, animating her character’s arc from spirited small-town wallflower to crushed adolescent with a depth of feeling the film probably doesn’t deserve.

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