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"A Face in the Crowd" charts the rise of a raucous hayseed named Lonesome Rhodes from itinerant Ozark guitar picker to local media rabble-rouser to TV superstar and political king-maker. Marcia Jeffries is the innocent Sarah Lawrence girl who discovers the great man in a back-country jail and is the first to fall under his spell. Written by
Andy Griffith made this film when he was still an actor and not the aw-shucks sheriff of Mayberry. Lonesome Rhodes (Griffith) is more than a TV personality: he is a media demagogue who understands the manipulative power of language and images. You might think a film made in 1957 would be hopeless dated but not this one. It is almost prophetic in its portrayal of modern media. When Marshall McLuhan-I know, who?-wrote The Medium is the Message, he must have had this film partially in mind.
Griffith is perfect: he is a mixture of cornpone and Satan. Patricia Neal is the woman-frequently abandoned and abused--who discovered the man and loves him for what she thought he was. Walter Matthau is the Princeton man who becomes one of the many faceless writers behind the façade of the county wit-Rhodes: the man admired for his `extempore and natural' humor.
Watch early on in the film for a scene taking place in the local jail. In one quick and brief flash of expression, Griffith reveals the true face of Lonesome Rhodes the rest of the film tries to mask. What brilliant acting by Griffith; what brilliant screen writing by Budd Schulberg; what brilliant directing by Kazan.
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