Oscar nominations may be given out too freely to actors who play the disabled, but Alan Arkin truly earns his in the film version of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers' novel about the intersecting lives of loners in a small Southern town. Arkin perfectly assimilates the shorthand communication style of a deaf man, right down to the knowing smiles directed at those flabbergasted about how to interact with him. His proud, contained performance earns audience respect without resorting to pity, which John Singer would not tolerate for a moment. Still, it's poignant that the only friend with whom he can truly connect is Antonapoulos (Chuck McCann), who is deaf and mentally impaired. Antonapoulos is intellectually inferior to the chess-playing Singer and unwittingly he tries Singer's seemingly bottomless patience. Singer attempts to branch out by helping a struggling drunk (Stacy Keach), a petulant teenager (Sondra Locke), and an officious doctor (Percy Rodriguez), but each takes him for granted in unknowingly thoughtless ways. The subplots in Robert Ellis Miller's film don't truly come together, feeling like floating strands out of different movies, which edge toward melodrama. The film labors to afflict almost every character with some abnormality, just to underscore the thesis that the world is full of lost souls trying to connect with each other. But the central character portrait of Singer is vivid and heartbreaking, excusing some of the film's minor faults. Locke makes a forceful debut, which also earned her a supporting actress nomination.