The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Ellis Miller
Screenplay byThomas C. Ryan
Based onThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers
Produced byThomas C. Ryan
Marc Merson
StarringAlan Arkin
Laurinda Barrett
Stacy Keach, Jr.
Chuck McCann
Biff McGuire
Percy Rodriguez
Cicely Tyson
Sondra Locke
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byJohn F. Burnett
Music byDave Grusin
Distributed byWarner Bros.-Seven Arts
Release date
  • 31 July 1968 (1968-07-31)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.1 million (US/ Canada)[1]

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a 1968 American film adaptation of the 1940 novel of the same name by Carson McCullers. It was directed by Robert Ellis Miller.[2] It stars Alan Arkin and introduces Sondra Locke, who both earned Academy Award nominations for their performances. The film updates the novel's small-town Southern setting from the Depression era to the contemporary 1960s. The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated[3]


John Singer is a deaf-mute who works as a silver engraver in a southern US town. His only friend is a mentally disabled mute, Spiros Antonapoulos, who continually gets into trouble with the law, since he does not know any better. When Spiros is committed to a mental institution by his cousin, who is his guardian, John offers to become Spiros' guardian, but is told that Spiros will have to go to the institution until this has been arranged. John decides to move to a town near the institution 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' teenage daughter, Margaret ("Mick"), resents having to give up her room to him, John tries to win her friendship. He also tries to become friends with Jake Blount, a semi-alcoholic drifter, and Dr. Copeland, an embittered African American physician who is secretly dying of lung cancer. John helps interpret for a deaf-mute patient who is seeing Dr. Copeland. Copeland's deepest disappointment is that his educated daughter, Portia, works as a domestic and is married to a field hand. Meanwhile, Mick has an outdoor teenage party at her house, but is disgusted after some boy guests disrupt it by fighting and setting off fireworks.

Following a successful attempt to win Mick's friendship by encouraging her love for classical music, John visits Spiros and, although he takes him out for the day, John is lonelier than ever when he returns home. Meanwhile, Portia and her husband are attacked and he is jailed for defending himself at an incident at a carnival. Portia gets upset at Dr. Copeland for not perjuring himself to help bring out the truth about what happened in the fight. Dr. Copeland and Portia's relationship gets even more strained after her husband has his leg amputated after being placed in irons for trying to escape jail.

John gets them to reconcile after Portia learns from John of Dr. Copeland's illness. Mick willfully loses her virginity to the sensitive older brother of one of her classmates after she realizes that her father's injury has permanently disabled him and she will have to leave school and work to help support the family. Disturbed by her sexual initiation, she ignores John's request for some company. John goes to visit Spiros and learns that he has been dead for several weeks. After visiting his friend's grave, pacing and apologizing over and over in sign language, John returns to his room and completes suicide.

Some months afterwards, Mick brings flowers to John's grave and meets Dr. Copeland. As they talk, Mick asks the question, "Why did he do it?" Dr. Copeland leaves, and the film ends with Mick admitting out loud to John's open grave that she loved him.



Alan Arkin was the first actor chosen for the film.[5]

Sondra Locke, then known as Sandra Locke, was a 23-year-old WSM-TV staff employee when she auditioned for the role of Mick on July 28, 1967.[5] To seem younger, Locke shaved six years off her age—a lie she maintained for the rest of her career.[6] Although she was outed by The Billings Gazette[7] and The Nashville Tennessean,[8][9] it took decades for syndicated publications to catch on. Actress Bonnie Bedelia, four years Locke's junior, told the Los Angeles Times that "they decided I was too old" to play Mick.[10]

In addition to changing her age, an international press release announcing Locke's casting omitted her time at Middle Tennessee State University as well as her residence in Nashville, where she had moved in 1963 after dropping out of college.[8] The actress admitted to lying about her age in her autobiography The Good, the Bad & the Very Ugly (1997), but claimed to have knocked only three years off, rather than six.[11] In her final interview, conducted in 2015 for a movie podcast called The Projection Booth, Locke said that she "was just graduating high school" when she started work on the film when she was in fact in her mid-20s.[12] Her salary was reported as $15,000 in newspapers at the time, but Locke later claimed it was less than one-third that amount.[11]

For the role of Mick's love interest Harry, director Robert Ellis Miller cast Wayne Smith, five years younger than Locke, even though the character is described in the screenplay as being older than Mick.[13]

Percy Rodriguez, who played Cicely Tyson's father, was only six years older than Tyson. Although Laurinda Barrett played Locke's mother, she was only 12½ years older than Locke.

Filming began on September 18, 1967 in Selma, Alabama, and lasted for six to eight weeks.[14] Locke married Gordon Anderson during the making of the film.[11]


Gregg J. Kilday of The Harvard Crimson criticized how some characters are "cardboard remains" of novel versions; he wrote that Spiros "is grossly overplayed", Blount "has been reduced to a drunken bum (someone was afraid to dirty their camera in politics)" and that Dr. Copeland and Portia's relationship "plays like a Black Power version of The Secret Storm."[15]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actor Alan Arkin Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Sondra Locke Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Alan Arkin Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Sondra Locke Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Female Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Alan Arkin Won
Laurel Awards Top Male Dramatic Performance Nominated
Top Female Supporting Performance Sondra Locke 2nd Place
Top Female New Face 8th Place
Top Cinematographer James Wong Howe Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor Alan Arkin Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama Thomas C. Ryan Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, January 8, 1969 p 15. Please note this figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
  2. ^ Adler, Renata (2008). "New York Times: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on January 16, 2008. Retrieved August 17, 2008.
  3. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  4. ^ Greg, Garrison (May 3, 2017). "Alabama actress Boots Carroll dies; she had role in 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter'". The Birmingham News. Archived from the original on May 3, 2017. Retrieved May 29, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Clara Hieronymus (August 15, 1967). "Nashville Actress Gets Starring Movie Role". The Tennessean.
  6. ^ Sondra Locke obituary Staff (December 15, 2018). The Times.
  7. ^ "People etc". The Billings Gazette. May 25, 1969. Sweet little Sondra is actually 25 years old and married. Because of the movie, people think she's about 13, so she's now considering offers to do a nude layout for a magazine to prove she's no kid, and pave the way for adult roles.
  8. ^ a b Hieronymus, Clara (December 24, 1967). "Nashvillians in the Times". The Tennessean. The spelling of her name has been changed to "Sondra," her age lowered to 17 years for publicity purposes, and her residence in Nashville, where she was employed by WSM, wiped out.
  9. ^ Slaughter, Sylvia (May 28, 1989). "Sondra vs. Clint in palimony suit". The Tennessean. Don Locke loves his sister. He misses her, and he regrets the fact that his three daughters don't have any knowledge of Sondra other than what they see on TV or in print or hear from gossipmongers. 'Sondra's not this kind of bad character,' he says. 'Maybe she's changed, but she was my big sister who used to play baseball with me. Sondra's gonna be 45 May 28 ...' Locke's publicist claims Sondra will be 42 today.
  10. ^ Cecil Smith (October 8, 1967). "Bonnie's Westward Stage Trek". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ a b c Locke, Sondra (1997). The Good, the Bad & the Very Ugly – A Hollywood Journey. William Morrow and Company. ISBN 978-0-688-15462-2.
  12. ^ White, Mike (January 16, 2016). "Special Report: Death Game / Knock Knock". The Projection Booth (Podcast). Interviews with Larry Spiegel, Sondra Locke, and David Worth.
  13. ^ Wanda Hale (July 28, 1968). "Screen McCullers Novel". New York Daily News.
  14. ^ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at the American Film Institute Catalog
  15. ^ Kilday, Gregg J. (October 5, 1968). "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved April 1, 2020.

External links[edit]