You’ve probably never heard of the 1972 film One Is A Lonely Number. I certainly hadn’t until, a few weeks ago, I happened to come across it on TCM. Like a lot of films that have apparently been forgotten by history, One Is A Lonely Number is one that deserves to be remembered.
One Is A Lonely Number opens with the end of a marriage. James Brower (Paul Jenkins), an arrogant college professor, coldly packs his collection of vinyl records into a box and tells his wife, Amy (Trish Van Devere), that he’s filing for divorce and that he’s leaving her. She asks him why. He coolly mentions something about her throwing out a prized copy of Paradise Lost and then leaves the apartment.
Shocked, Amy goes to the college and asks her husband’s students if they’ve seen him. They tell her that James canceled his final exam and has since disappeared. At first, Amy insists that James is going to come back and denies that they’re getting a divorce. When she finally does accept that her marriage is over, Amy is forced to be independent for the first time.
What she quickly discovers is that the world is full of people who are looking to take advantage of both her vulnerability and her naiveté. When she goes to an employment agency, she explains that she has a degree in Art History and that she minored in Philosophy. Frighteningly (especially in the eyes of this particular holder of a degree in Art History), all this gets Amy is a job as a lifeguard at the local pool. When she finally find herself attracted to another man, she doesn’t discover that he’s married until the morning after. And when she finally discovers why her husband actually left her, she discovers that he was even more of a stranger to her than she realized.
Fortunately, there are a few good spots in Amy’s life. Her best friends Madge (Jane Elliott) and Gert (Janet Leigh) provide support. (“Men are shit,” Gert explains at one point.) And she strikes up a poignant friendship with a widowed grocer (Melvyn Douglas).
There are so many scenes in One Is A Lonely Number that ring true, even when viewed today. Amy finally realizes that her marriage is over while trying on clothes and ends up sobbing by herself. Amy, Gert, and Madge get drunk and talk about their exes, laughing away their shared pain. Amy discovers that the man from the employment agency (played, as a disturbingly plausible creep, by Jonathan Goldsmith who is best known for being the Most Interesting Man In The World for Dos Equis) expects her to “repay” him for his help in getting her a demeaning job as a lifeguard. Amy panics when she can’t find what’s happened to that kindly grocer.
One Is A Lonely Number moves at its own deliberate pace but it’s still one that you should watch and stick with until the end. It’s an intelligent and well-acted movie and the film’s poignant final scene will fill you with hope. Watch it the next time that it shows up on TCM.