Adam White (Montgomery Clift) is an aspiring news writer looking to get his foot in the door any way he can. Luckily for him, he befriends Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy), who is married to Bill Shrike (Robert Ryan), editor for The Chronicle. She introduces Adam to Bill at a restaurant one night and Bill has Adam sort of audition for a job on the spot. Bill jerks Adam around for a little bit, but in the end, tells Adam to drop by the Chronicle offices because there may be a place for him. Adam is thrilled and runs off to tell his girlfriend Justy (Dolores Hart) the good news and of course, she is thrilled for him. When Adam arrives at the Chronicle offices the next day, the wind gets taken out of his sails a little bit when he finds out the job is writing the Miss Lonelyhearts advice column. He knows that he’s all wrong for the job, but agrees to take it because he so badly wants to start his career.
Some of the other reporters like to make fun of the letters people send into the Miss Lonelyhearts column, but Adam is much more compassionate. People keep telling Adam to just give cold, thoughtless answers, but he thinks they deserve better than that. Justy advises him to do his best, but not to take it too seriously. He starts spending more and more time at work, trying to help these people the best he can. This takes him away from Justy, but she wants to be supportive. Growing frustrated, he sees Bill in a restaurant one night and asks for a new column. Bill tells him that it’s either Miss Lonelyhearts or nothing. But their conversation is overheard by Fay Doyle (Maureen Stapleton), who has written into the column. Bill and Adam frequently get into arguments over the nature of the people who write in, and one day Bill suggests calling up some of the letter writers and finding out what they’re like first hand. Adam takes Bill up on this suggestion and by pure chance, dials up Fay Doyle. The two of them arrange to meet up so Fay can tell him more about her problems. When they meet and Fay tells Adam all about how her husband Pat had lied to her about how he got a major injury and how it’s left her desperate for affection. Adam is truly moved by her story, but knows that he’s completely unfit to truly help her with her problems. Fay had also been hoping that he was looking to have an affair with her, but is disappointed when she finds out he isn’t.
The whole incident drives Adam to drink, something he never normally does. When he stops into a bar, he runs into none other than Pat. Pat knows Adam works for the Chronicle, but not that he writes the Miss Lonelyhearts column and asks him to get back the letter Fay had sent in. Adam manages to get away from Pat, but then finds himself at a party for a fellow Chronicle reporter. The other reporters start mocking the Miss Lonelyhearts column again and Adam gets into a fist fight. Once he sobers up, he realizes that this job is destroying his life and decides to quit the paper and leave town. He’d like Justy to come with him and tries to repair their damaged relationship. After thinking it over, Justy decides to go with him and meets up with him at the Chronicle, where Adam is saying goodbye to the other reporters. But their happy reunion is interrupted by Pat barging in with a gun, looking for the person Fay has been talking to. Adam is able to defuse the situation and before he leaves, a softened up Bill even asks him to stay with the Chronicle. But Adam realizes that it’s time for him to move on with his life. Not only did Adam learn some valuable lessons from his time at the Chronicle, he unwittingly managed to teach Bill a few things about life, too.
I had a really hard time getting interested in Lonelyhearts. I feel like this had the potential to be a far more interesting movie than it ended up being. I know it was based on the play “Miss Lonelyhearts,” but I’ve never seen the play so I don’t know if something was lost in translation here or what. First of all, I think Montgomery Clift was a little bit old for his part. Adam was supposed to be a young, aspiring writer, but at the time this was made, Montgomery Clift was 38 years old. Even though he was slightly miscast, his performance wasn’t bad so I can forgive the age issue a little bit. Actually, all the performances were pretty decent, it’s just that they didn’t have the greatest material to work with. Maureen Stapleton gave the most notable performance in the movie, as evidenced by her Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Other than that, I thought the movie moved along very slowly. There was a good story at the heart of this, but the movie could have greatly benefited from some rewrites and some tweaking here and there.