(director: Robert Ellis Miller; screenwriter: from the novel by Carson McCullers/Thomas C. Ryan; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: John Burnett; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Alan Arkin (John Singer), Laurinda Barrett (Mrs. Margaret Kelly), Stacy Keach (Blount), Chuck McCann (Spiros Antonapoulos), Peter Mamokas (Charles Spirmonedes), Biff McGuire (Mr. Kelly), Sondra Locke (Mick Kelly), Jackie Marlowe (Bubber Kelly), Robbie Barnes (Ralph Kelly), Percy Rodrigues (Dr. Copeland), Cicely Tyson (Portia), Johnny Popwell (Willie), Sherri Vise (Delores), Wayne Smith (Harry), John O’Leary (Beaudine), (); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Marc Merson/Thomas C. Ryan; Warner Home Video; 1968)

“Touching drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The drama is based on the Georgia-born bisexual Carson McCullers’s first novel, which was published in 1940 when she was 22. The ailing acclaimed author died at age 50, a year before the film was released. It’s an observant touching drama about a group of troubled outsiders befriended by a giving lonely outsider deaf-mute in an unnamed small town in the Deep South. The film was shot in Selma just a few months after the infamous Civil Rights march. Director Robert Ellis Miller(“Bed and Breakfast”/”Reuben, Reuben”/ “Bed and Breakfast”), a former child actor and a Harvard grad, captures the spirit of the book but has difficulty transferring its lyrical qualities onto the big screen. He manipulatively navigates the film through a number of overwrought incidents, as seen from the view of a deaf-mute. Unfortunately many of the vignettes are zapped of the power they had in the novel. Though well-produced and with dollops of sincerity, the well-intentioned film is too long, overloads on sentimentality, is wispy and hasn’t aged well. The film acting debuts of Stacy Keach and Sondra Locke are fine, as is the uneven mannered performance by the Oscar- nominated Alan Arkin. He lost to Cliff Robertson in Charly. The lush Technicolor photography by the great cinematographer James Wong Howe is also noteworthy of kudos.

The Greek simple-minded mute Spiros Antonapoulos (Chuck McCann) is sent to an out-of-town mental hospital by his harried guardian cousin (Peter Mamokas), who loses patience with his harmless charge after one too many incidents with the local police. John Singer (Alan Arkin) is a deaf-mute silverware engraver, who looks after the dummy and decides to be near his only companion by moving to the small town where Spiros is institutionalized.

Singer moves into the boarding house of the economically struggling Kellys: the patriarch (Biff McGuire) is a recent cripple who is wheelchair-bound and unable to support the family because of a hip injury accident, his domineering wife (Laurinda Barrett) has a gloomy outlook on life, the two young boys (Jackie Marlowe & Robbie Barnes) are playfully troublesome and the teen sophomore in high school, Mick (Sondra Locke), is unhappy living in an impoverished home because she’s not invited to parties by her peers and is stunted from getting a college education and becoming more refined so she can have a better life in the future.

After at first despising Singer for taking her room, Mick is consoled by his kindness and concern for her. But she’s too self-absorbed and needy to see he also has personal needs that are not being met.

Singer listens to an angry alcoholic drifter (Stacy Keach) lash out at the world and tries to be friends with him, but it’s hopeless. He also makes contact with an angry, white hating, widowed black doctor (Percy Rodrigues), who has a big secret he shares with Singer and deep-rooted family problems with his angry, militant, stubborn, married maid daughter (Cicely Tyson).

Things drastically change for Singer when he learns his only friend in the world, Spiros, has died. The episodic melodrama ends on a note of tragedy. It shows how Singer is merely a prop to fit the story teller’s agenda of depicting the world as not a reassuring place.