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Only the Lonely (1991)

What happened when that fiery Irish gal Maureen O’Hara came out of a 20 year retirement to play John Candy’s overbearing mother with her fiery red hair now turned to orange in this Chris Columbus feature? We get plenty of laughs, a few tears and wonderful cast including two time Oscar winner Anthony Quinn in what proved to be my favorite John Candy film. One where he gets to play the romantic lead and capture the girl’s heart in the end.

Yeah maybe I’m a romantic at heart after all. Just don’t tell anyone down at the club for movie tough guys where I’m a card carrying member.

Not surprisingly it’s Roy Orbison’s classic recording that kick starts this romantic comedy off that finds John Candy as the friendly neighborhood cop who has James Belushi for a partner who can’t stop talking about his own relationship problems and a failing sex life. At the same time offering up shady advice to poor John who is pining for a sweetheart and someone to spend the rest of his life with.

It’s a darkly humorous tale where Maureen is concerned. She’s got a racial comment and bad thing to say about most anyone that comes into her dear son’s life. Have to wonder if they’d tone things down a bit into today’s politically correct era. If she isn’t berating her Greek neighbor Zorba himself who wants nothing better than to capture her heart then she’s tearing apart Italians and specifically Sicilians when she learns that John has a budding romance with an equally lonely heart played by a shy Ally Sheedy who lacks self esteem after working in her father’s funeral home for far too long comically making up the deceased to look like celebrities.  Her latest challenge being a Clark Gable lookalike.

“He’s a dead ringer.” chimes in big John.

John’s a chatterbox and Ally’s the quiet type but somehow these two wall flowers are going to find love and romance. That is until the mean spirited Maureen comes between them and John’s guilt ridden conscience about looking after his Mother comes to a head. Not only is Maureen proving to be a major obstacle “telling it like it is” but so is John’s selfish lawyer brother Kevin Dunn who intends to keep John in his place looking after Maureen and therefore out of his own life. What better way to accomplish that then by buying them a place in the state of Florida and having John transferred there from his current Chicago precinct.

“Don’t spend your life full of regrets.” 

Sound advice from a couple of confirmed bachelors down at O’Neill’s Irish Pub played by a pair of scene stealing character players when they want to be, Milo O’Shea and Bert Remsen. With their advice and Tony Quinn helping Candy along in his romantic pursuit of Ally things just might work out for these two lonely people despite the mountains they have to climb to live a happy life together.

Enough about the plot. It works in the end and that’s good enough for me. It’s the performers on screen that make this a winning adventure. John Candy has long been one of Canada’s favorite sons and he remains so twenty-five years after his death which speaks volumes to his lasting popularity. This movie gave him a rare opportunity to play a romantic lead and for a man of his size that’s not something that occurs very often. Sure there are some laughs involved but he proves here as he did in some key scenes in the very popular Plains Trains and Automobiles that he was an actor of great dramatic depth when given the opportunity beyond the silly movie roles he was often playing.

Miss O’Hara was making her first appearance on the big screen since Big Jake in 1971 and according to the writer/director Chris Columbus he wrote the screenplay with her in mind to play Candy’s feisty opinionated Mother. In Maureen’s autobiography Tis’ Herself she reveals that next to Duke, Candy is her second favorite leading man. Heavy praise from a woman who starred opposite the likes of Tyrone Power, John Garfield and John Payne among so many others. Bringing Tony Quinn on board is such a joy and when he shares the screen with Maureen there’s a magic that fills the room. They had appeared together five times prior to this effort going back to 1942’s The Black Swan, 1944’s Buffalo Bill, 1947’s Sinbad the Sailor, 1952’s Against All Flags and 1955’s The Magnificent Matador.

Connecting the dots one might notice that this is a John Hughes production who along with the director Columbus also gave us Home Alone in 1990. So don’t be surprised when you spot the Culkin boys Macauley and Kieran making a cameo as Dunn’s two children. But then if you know your Candy film roles then you know of course he appeared in Home Alone so movie world’s collide once again. A keen film buff’s eye might even spot one time screen villain of note John Davis Chandler briefly playing a thug in the back to Candy and Belushi’s paddy wagon.

Give this one a look and enjoy the work of this magical supporting cast but especially that of John and Ally who prove that romance isn’t just meant for the typical leading player types.

11 Comments »

  1. I really like this film and have warmed up to the Candy/Sheedy pairing over the years. Maureen never stopped speaking fondly of John, as I think she was always saddened by his early death. They had a special connection. The scenes between Maureen and Anthony are so lovely. 😊

  2. When I saw this one at the theater, my most memorable moment was seeing John and Ally at Comiskey Park for their picnic; the film was released just a few months before demolition began on the ballpark. I went to a White Sox game there during their final season in 1990, so it was nice to see it immortalized in film before it was torn down. Oh yeah…a decent little film, too. Like you said, not flashy but easy-going.

    • That’s one of the nice things about movies being filmed at locations lost to time. Kind of what makes movies from the earlier years of film kind of cool right from silent on up. 1990!!! Time flies.

  3. I been thinking of revisiting some of John Candy’s gems myself, especially realising it’s been 25 years since his death. He was certainly one of a kind. Never fails to bring a smile to your face. Only The Lonely is one that I loved all those years back but haven’t got round to watching again. Remember thinking it was very sweet indeed. Apart from the classics, one of my favourites of his was Who’s Harry Crumb? I so can’t wait to see that again.

    Little side scribbles on Maureen O’Hara. It’s wasn’t very long ago I was sat in “her” chair, along with ashtray. I was onboard her third husband Captain Charles F. Blair’s Ansett Beachcomber flying boat that they had bought together in the 70s. Now sat in a local air museum, it was interesting getting a piece of movie and aviation history at the same time. 🙂

  4. This is a terrific film, with some dark humour at times and an engrossing love story. I didn’t realize Maureen O’Hara had such high regard for John Candy – this makes me admire her all the more.

    Also: I really like the set design and how there is very little glam in this film. It has an authentic feel all the way through.

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