ETHEL BARRYMORE MONTH
NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART ( 1944 )
For my next review for Ethel Barrymore month, I’ve chosen “None But The Lonely Heart”, a film that stars Ethel Barrymore alongside the eminent Cary Grant.
“None But The Lonely Heart” is an American classic written and directed by Clifford Odets. The film was based on the novel “None But The Lonely Heart” by Richard Llewellyn, and stars Cary Grant and Ethel Barrymore in the lead roles.
After a twelve year absence, Ethel Barrymore returned to the screen, and in the reach of an Oscar for her poignant and touching portrayal of Ma Mott, the ailing mother of Ernie Mott ( Cary Grant ) an itinerant and capricious vagabond, who returns to his mothers house in the seedy district of London, and is faced with the ultimatum when he is questioned why he has been away from home for so long with no correspondence. With that question, he informs her that he will be leaving first thing in the morning, and storms out and encounters Ada Brantline, a petulant ex wife of a gangster. Immediately enamored by Ada, he invites her out on a date, but she rejects when she finds out that Ernie will be departing for Liverpool the following morning.
Just before Ernie is about to leave town, Mrs Mott’s pawnbroker friend breaks the news to Ernie that his mother is terminally ill with Cancer. Ernie is oppressed, and decides to stay in London with her and help her run her shop. As the month progresses, Ernie continues to pursue Ada, but when gangster Jim Mordinoy annunciates that Ada is his wife, Ernie cuts her off socially.
Shortly after Ernie becomes perturbed with the poverty surrounding him. He wants his mum to have everything, so he accepts Mordinoy’s offer and starts engaging himself in crime, which lands himself a jail sentence. When he is released, he discovers that his platinum cigarette case, a birthday gift from his mother is stolen, and his mother is arrested and put in prison.
“None But The Lonely Heart” is such an underrated movie, which definitely deserves more attention. Not only is it a different vehicle for Cary Grant. It also exhibits one of his finest onscreen performances. Cary Grant was known for playing suave type characters, but in this film he portrays the role as Ernie Mott, an impecunious drifter who deep inside has a heart of gold, but dabbles in crime to make sacrifices for his dying mother.
Cary Grant considered this to be one of his greatest roles. His character of Ernie Mott was similar to his own life in England when he was still Archibald Leach. Cary had hailed from a penurious family, and often led a troubled and unhappy upbringing, so he could relate to his character here.
Ethel Barrymore returned to the screen for the first time in over a decade, and attained the Academy Award for her commendable portrayal of Ma Mott, the ailing and loving mother who is as tough as nails and fights for her sons dignity with maternal hardness. Even though this was her first film in years, Ethel Barrymore was outstanding and appeared fresh as if she had been in an array of different movies prior to this, but in truth she had not been in a movie since 1932, when she appeared in “Rasputin And The Empress” with her brothers, John and Lionel. Right up until 1944, Ethel was an assiduous theatre actress, who had experience in the cinema medium, starring in many silent productions years earlier, but took a break from cinema in 1926, and continued on as a theatre actress until 1932 when she co-starred with her brothers in “Rasputin And The Empress”, so considering this is only her second talking picture, she was laudable and well deserving of the Academy Award. After the success of “None But The Lonely Heart”, Ethel decided to stay in Hollywood, appearing in a myriad of films until retiring in 1957.
Another reason why this film distinguishes itself is the glorious cinematography. The recreation of London’s back streets on RKO’s back lots and sound stages are remarkably convincing. The background of the streets is like something that comes out of a silent movie. It is absolutely grandiose. This is one of the components of what was termed “Movie Magic” before first, location shooting, then high-tech special effects, and finally, digitalization co-opted the term. This “art” of convincingly capturing the essence of a location within the confines of a studio is one of the quaint aspects of old films that, when done well, fascinates me. It is the essence of Imagination – both of the filmmaker and the audience. This is the perfect example of movie making to perfection.
This film marked a return to the big screen after a 12 year absence by Ethel Barrymore. Prior to making this film, Barrymore had considered movie appearances an inferior art to the stage. However, her time on set, her critical acclaim, and her hefty paycheck changed her mind. After making this film, she moved from New York to California so she could concentrate on making movies instead of Broadway plays.
Ethel Barrymore won the Academy Award for ‘Best Supporting Actress’.
Ma Mott: “A bit of proper respect is what’s needed. I get no more from you than what I got from that father of yours.”
Ma Mott: “Why did you come home Ernie? Miss me?
Ernie: Can’t say I did Ma.”
Ernie: “I’m so broke I’m in two halves.”
Ernie: “They say money talks… all it’s ever said to me is goodbye.”
Cary Grant: Born Archibald Alexander Leach on January 18th, 1904 in Bristol, England. Died: November 29th, 1986 in Davenport, Iowa. Aged 82.
Ethel Barrymore: Born Ethel Mae Blythe on August 15th, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: June 18th, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 79.