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Dore Schary, onetime production boss of MGM, who is back in movies as an independent writer-producer, has translated this repulsive masterpiece into a snappy, sexy, phony little Horatio Alger story. The book told the story of a young reporter who, while writing the agony column for a New York newspaper, came to feel that he was being stretched upon the cross of the world's suffering. He goes insane and is murdered by one of the suffering souls he is trying to save. And what does it all mean? That nobody in his right mind can love his neighbor?
The picture says no such horrid, controversial thing. According to one billboard, the hero (Montgomery Clift) has a relatively simple problem: "Will he make a good husband?" Though his heart bleeds for humanity, the wound is healed with a kiss, and in the end it looks as though he gets married and lives happily ever after.
Nevertheless, there are moments when a whiff of West goes drifting through the theater like a scent of cyanide emitted by a pretty bonbon; and most of those moments involve Maureen Stapleton, a gifted actress from Broadway who, in her first movie role, impersonates a revolting specimen discovered by Miss Lonelyhearts on a "field trip" among his correspondents. But most of the time the spectator is apt to find himself feeling, as Author West puts it, "like an empty bottle that is slowly being filled with warm, dirty water."