Maureen Stapleton in LONELYHEARTS (1958) - Supporting Actress Sundays

It's only fitting that Supporting Actress Sundays conclude its first month of Sundays with a tribute to Maureen Stapleton...

For previous Maureen love, see here, here & here.

And her 1st nominated performance as Faye Boyle in 1958's Lonelyhearts.

Here, MissMo offers the kind of performance that was to become her signature. At first glance, Faye appears to be unremarkable, in turns awkwardly dowdy & brazenly crass. Scratch the surface, though, and Faye emerges with a roaring explosive passion -- passion for life, for sex, for love, for her beloveds.

The story of the film is pretty simple. Based on the Nathanael West novella Miss Lonelyhearts, Montgomery Clift is a struggling young writer, trolling for a break at a newspaper. As the result of a kind of sick powerplay by the newspaper's editor (played here with a disdainful sneer by Robert Ryan, who -- also in 1958 -- played pervy Pa opposite Tina Louise in God's Little Acre), Monty's awarded a gig writing as "Miss Lonelyhearts." Of course, as anyone who's ever seen that very special episode of any trillion sitcoms knows, Monty gets all embroiled in the fact that his replies have an impact on his desparate readers & he threatens to quit. In an inscrutable narrative turn, Monty then takes the evil editor dare to meet a random letter writer, & off Monty goes to meet Faye.

"For seven years, I've been good and decent...as the saying goes."
(Hat tip to The Film Experience for the screencaps.

Faye's feeling trapped in a loving but sexless marriage & doesn't know what to do. She wants to love her husband, he's a good man, but after all she was sorta wild before her marriage, so she knows what she's missing...

"I feel like I'm dying inside. Please tell me what to do."

So, what does Miss Lonelyhearts advise? It's not clear but, in the meantime, Miss Lonelyhearts (aka Montgomery Clift) sleeps with Faye. (No brainer, eh.) And from here, Stapleton's Faye becomes the prototype for subsequent cinematic ladystalkers -- the kind of role that has given filmfreaks the glorious genius work of Jessica Walter, Glenn Close, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and innumerable Lifetime movies...

See Nathaniel's clipreel for this excellent scene.

See, Faye's (understandably) none to pleased with Miss Lonelyhearts' decision to "get some action" and begone. Indeed, Faye "won't be ignored" & keeps on after Miss Lonelyhearts, so much that her husband & the newspaper catches on. From there, the story spirals into a feverish morality tale about (a) vintage 1950s, post-eugenic anxieties about "bad blood" and (b) the debilitating anxieties of the cuckold. Yes, it's just wierd. But along its way to the film's inexplicably coded conclusion -- there's a drunken brawl, much feminine handwringing among the more respectable female characters, a visit to a prison, a shadowy confrontation at the newspaper office, some gun action, and -- through it all -- Faye is completely forgotten. Go figure...

It's a strange little time-capsule of a movie. The ensemble -- which includes Myrna Loy improbably cast as an alcoholic matron with a taste for ginzano (and Montgomery Clift) alongside Uncle Fester as a depressed drama & culture writer (!) -- offers able performances, though it seems each performance is in a different key or register. Something's just "off" about the whole thing -- except when Stapleton takes the screen. When Faye's on a rampage (erotic or raging), everything's clear -- at least for the moment. It's a starmaking, supporting performance. And it's a reminder of everything Lulu's fallen in love with about MissMo.
So, lovely reader, this concludes the Supporting Actress Month of Sundays for 1958. It's been more fantabulous than Lulu ever imagined... Thank you ever so. And be sure to check back on Monday, May 1, for the official announcement of the Supporting Actress Sunday Year for May. (As of this moment, it looks like it'll be 1942.) But there's still time to vote!

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