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Film / None but the Lonely Heart

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None but the Lonely Heart is a 1944 drama film written and directed by Clifford Odets, based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn.

Ernie Mott (Cary Grant) is a drifter who makes a life out of wandering around everyplace, being determined to avoid settling down and having obligations and responsibilities. He has come back home to a poor section of London to visit his mother, Ma Mott (Ethel Barrymore), who ekes out a meager living as the owner of a store dealing in second-hand goods. Ma disapproves of Ernie's itinerant lifestyle and tells him so. Ernie is about to leave town again on bad terms with his mother when a family friend delivers some terrible news: Ma is dying of cancer.

Ernie stays home with Ma without revealing that he knows of her condition. Old acquaintance Aggie Hunter (Jane Wyatt) makes it perfectly clear that she's in love with Ernie and wants him to marry her, but Ernie prefers Ada Brantline, who works at the amusement park. After finding out that Ada used to be married to local crime boss Jim Mordinoy, a bitter Ernie breaks up with her, and joins Jim's gang. Meanwhile, Ma, who wants to leave something to Ernie, makes the rash decision to cooperate with a gang of thieves in the fencing of stolen goods.


Barry Fitzgerald plays Henry Twite, an avuncular neighbor of Ma and Ernie's.


  • Bittersweet Ending: Ma doesn't just die, she dies in prison. Ada goes back to Jim, breaking Ernie's heart. The only thing that saves the movie from full Downer Ending is that Ernie goes back to the loving and nurturing Aggie.
  • Call-Forward: Henry suggests in the last scene that if humanity doesn't find the happiness it's seeking, there may be another war.
  • Chiaroscuro: There is some very stark black-and-white lighting in some scenes, like the first scene where Ernie is silhouetted against the doorway to Westminster Abbey, or a later scene where Ernie and Henry are walking home along dimly lit streets at night.
  • "Dear John" Letter: Ada breaks up with Ernie via a letter given to Henry. Of course, it's mostly Ernie's fault as he wouldn't go away with her.
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  • Dogged Nice Guy: A gender-flipped version with Aggie. She knows Ernie's in love with Ada; she even thinks that's why Ernie's sticking around. She tells him straight out that she wants him and she's willing to wait until he comes around.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Ernie gets a good drink on after finding out that Ada used to be married to Jim.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: A hardened gangster weeps with grief after his brother is killed in a car wreck.
  • A Foggy Day in London Town: Several scenes, including the whole opening scene, are shot on foggy London streets that help set the mood.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The general feeling of despair when Ernie is bailed out of prison, only to get back and find that his mother has been arrested for trafficking in stolen goods, is reinforced by a pouring rainstorm.
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Ernie is unpleasantly surprised to find out that Ada used to be married to Jim. Instead of just murdering Ernie, Jim acts smugly confident that Ada will come back to him. He's right.
  • Jeweler's Eye Loupe: One of Ernie's skills is an ability to repair watches and clocks. There's a certain bit of comedy in seeing distinctly working-class Ernie with a loupe in his eye as he fixes a watch.
  • London Gangster: One of the earlier cinematic examples in the person of Jim Mordinoy, local crime boss, who eventually gets Ernie to work for him. There's also an unusual female example in Mrs. Snowden, leader of a gang of lady shoplifters.
  • Love Triangle: Ernie has the beautiful Aggie throwing herself at him, but he has eyes for saucy Ada.
  • Match Cut: There's an audio Match Cut between Ernie sobbing after visiting his terminally ill mother in a prison hospital, and the chortling laughter of patrons in a bar as Ernie glumly nurses a beer.
  • Sweater Girl: Ada, modestly dressed for most of the movie, is wearing a provocative sweater for the big confrontation scene with Ernie and Jim.
  • Titled After the Song: "None but the Lonely Heart" is a Tchaikovsky piece that Aggie, a cellist, plays in the film.
  • Verbal Tic: Ike the pawnbroker has a habit of ending every sentence with the word "irregardless".
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Poor people living in crime-ridden slums. Ernie is rattled when a little girl tells him it will take her 27 weeks to save up for the secondhand pair of boots in Ma's shop.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: With cancer eating away at her, Ma wants to build a nest egg to leave behind to Ernie.