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None But the Lonely Heart (DVD Review)

6 Sep, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive.
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Cary Grant, Ethel Barrymore, June Duprez, Jane Wyatt.

Though no one disputes that Cary Grant is the greatest light comedian in the history of movies, his only Oscar nominations came for 1941’s high-grade adoption soaper Penny Serenade and this subsequent drama, which I’d venture a guess many of his fans have never seen. Compounding the irony, it’s the movie that probably hits closest in terms of the actor’s real-life history — set, as it is, in a modest milieu (and that’s a generous reading) in London’s East End.

According to the AFI Catalog for the 1940s, there was initial talk of transplanted Brit Alfred Hitchcock (who’d already worked with Grant at producing studio RKO on Suspicion) filming what eventually became the first of only two movies directed by Golden Boy playwright Clifford Odets. The final result pokes along some in the early going, and maybe Hitchcock would have provided a little more juice. But it picks up considerable steam in the second hour and eventually becomes one of those movies that linger in the memory.

Adapted from a novel by How Green Was My Valley author Richard Llewellyn, it begins immediately after World War I’s Armistice Day, yet it was shot well into World War II (production wrapped about 10 days before D-Day). In 1918, Grant’s jack-of-all-trades Ernie Mott (his specialty is tuning pianos) is looking for a better lot in a period of recently terminated global chaos, but audiences at the time must have surmised there was a chance he never found it.

Ernie’s cancer-wracked mom (Ethel Barrymore, a deserving Oscar winner in support) runs a second-hand shop but avoids dealing in stolen goods until a key turning point in the story. Neither wanting to be a peon or a big shot running anyone’s show, Ernie is finally moved to take some sort of life stand when his top pick of two femme possibilities (June Duprez of 1940’s still magnificent The Thief of Bagdad) turns out to be involved, perhaps inextricably, with a local big shot herself. This jack-of-all-illegal-trades is played by George Coulouris, the actor Ben Chaplin played in last year’s Me & Orson Welles.

When Ernie finally decides he’s had enough with psychological inertia, he makes a fateful move — aligning himself with a band of Mr. Big’s auto thieves, who also like to beat up merchants (including one who turns out to be an elderly Ernie friend) resistant to their shops being plundered. This is around the time the movie kicks into a higher gear, giving us something we could never expect to see in a Clifford Odets movie: a car chase (and one pretty well staged for its day).

The production bankrolled a huge outdoor set on a soundstage to create Ernie’s neighborhood — all the better with which to control the gloom/doom lighting of George Barnes, a great cinematographer who shot Rebecca, Spellbound, Jane Eyre (and in color) Frenchman’s Creek and Samson and Delilah. But ultimately, the movie — seen here in a vastly improved print over what has been available for years — is no bummer, and even gives Ernie a romantic alternative. This very willing neighbor is played by Jane Wyatt, a pretty actress whose minimal sexual allure (Lost Horizon notwithstanding) is probably one of the things that made her so right for TV’s “Father Knows Best” or for playing the kind of wives guys abandoned for film noir chippies (Dick Powell in Andre de Toth’s Pitfall).

In keeping with all those folks of modest means in ’40s Hollywood movies who nonetheless wear flashy suits, Grant sometimes looks sharp even in his homey scenes with Barrymore, which are quite special. He is so good here that you wish he’d done a lot more post-stardom dramas (or at least more significant ones than he did). But who’d give up his comic performances?

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