It seems that Oprah's book club doesn't bring old books back to just the best-seller lists. Her touch may be inspiring the rerelease of the books' film adaptations as well. For its 40th anniversary, Warner Bros. has reissued the 1968 film "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" on DVD, on the heels of the Carson McCullers' novel's anointing by Oprah. The movie stars Alan Arkin as a deaf man and and then-20-year-old Sondra Locke as a teenage girl who develop a doomed friendship amid the backward, racist South.
The film shifts the focus to John Singer (Arkin), a deaf-mute who moves to a small town in Georgia to be closer to a friend (Chuck McCann) who was recently committed to a mental institution. Newly alone in a society that looks at any physical challenge sideways, Singer slowly befriends teenager Mick (Locke), white-hating doctor Copeland (Percy Rodrigues) and alcoholic Blount (Stacy Keach). All three are drawn to Singer as a "good listener," but as they get mired in their respective troubles, they later find cause to regret not being more of a friend to him.
The stars of this movie are Arkin and Locke, the former rendering perhaps the best portrayal of a deaf person in film. Both are reason enough to take another look at this movie, whose material sometimes suffers at the hands of director Robert Ellis Miller, who frequently (and unfavorably) reveals his experience in television. The movie wisely makes Arkin's Singer the focus, but also leans heavily on melodramatic conventions and ultimately feels locked in the style of '60s small-screen fare. With all due respect, that might suit Oprah's crowd, but it might also suit a cold night in. Entertainment hunting in mid-January can be lonely, too. (G)