The Great Man (1956) Poster

(1956)

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The Great Man is a thinly disguised Arthur Godfrey
stevie-14 September 2001
Just as Charlie Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst, great man Herb Fuller was based on TV and radio icon Arthur Godfrey. I believe several of the story lines in Great Man paralleled events in Godfrey's life. The one that stands out involved a `boy singer' that was fired by Herb Fuller. In real life Arthur Godfrey fired `boy singer' Julius LaRosa. I have heard that Godfrey – the `old redhead' was none too pleased with Jose Ferrer's film.

There is a brilliant scene in the film where the hard-boiled, cynical reporter Joe Harris (Jose Ferrer) meets a former employer of great man Herb Fuller, the guy who gave Fuller his start in broadcasting. Harris and his secretary make fun of Paul Beaseley (veteran actor Ed Wynn, who only has this one scene), a doddering old bumpkin who owns a small radio station in New England. Beaseley tells a story that reveals the two sides of Herb Fuller – a folksy, down-to- earth radio personality that people love on the one hand and a mean-spirited, drunken rat bastard on the other. At the end of the scene Beaseley says something like, `I know that some people find me ridiculous' and Harris, no longer mocking Beaseley, replies, `Mr. Beaseley, I don't find you ridiculous at all'. This is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time.
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9/10
an excellent sleeper--and a film that deserves more attention
MartinHafer11 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Jose Ferrer does a terrific job as the reporter asked to create an hour-long program to eulogize a famous radio star who is beloved by the nation. To get material, he tracks down the man's co-workers, friends and family. However, in a series of vignettes, we find that NO ONE is willing to saying anything good about the man. It seems that beneath that wonderful persona he created for his listeners, he is a total jerk. The general consensus is "good riddance" when they discuss his death. So what is Ferrer to do? His bosses are expecting a glowing tribute. Should he just white-wash the man, tell the truth or just cancel the tribute program altogether? Watch the movie to find out yourself--you won't be disappointed.

By the way, this film came out a year before the much more famous "A Face in the Crowd" (with Andy Griffith). While "A Face" is considered a classic, I actually preferred "The Great Man". It was more subtle and realistic--and I am shocked it's not the more famous of the two--especially since it came out first and both essentially are retelling the story (with names changed) of Arthur Godfrey's fall from grace on national television.
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8/10
THE GREAT MAN (Jose' Ferrer, 1956) ***1/2
Bunuel197610 January 2014
The immense influence Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE (1941) has had on the language of cinema is well documented. So, to a lesser degree, is the freedom it gave film-makers – not always of comparable talent – towards (vaguely autobiographical) self-indulgence in their work. Yet another ripple it undeniably created (actually borrowed from THE POWER AND THE GLORY {1933}, which I own but have yet to watch!) led to a whole series of films taking a sour look at the American dream, depicting – via their flashback structure – the rise and fall of a successful but, at heart, unscrupulous public figure. Among these are RUTHLESS (1948), ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), Welles' own MR. ARKADIN aka CONFIDENTIAL REPORT (1955), THE Oscar (1966), etc.

THE GREAT MAN, then, is one such effort – and an unfairly neglected example into the bargain (even if both the Leslie Halliwell and Leonard Maltin movie guides are duly complimentary in their assessment)…which rather suggests that it stands up better than other, more renowned titles in this vein! It also emerges as the most significant directorial venture by star/co-writer Ferrer. For the record, I own all 7 of the pictures he helmed – but, perhaps tellingly, this was only the second I have checked out (and which I opted to watch on the occasion of his birthday). Given the Oscar winner's reputation as a thespian, his choice of 'personal' projects was – for the most part – curiously bland and commercial in nature!

Setting this apart from the established formula is the fact that the subject of the expose' is never shown; we only learn about him – and, consequently, formulate our own opinion – from the way others (who knew him intimately, professionally or just vicariously through his popular radio show) react to news of his passing in a traffic accident. Besides, running concurrently with the main plot (the compiling of information by a small-time radio personality – played by Ferrer himself – for a "heart-rending" eulogy, to be delivered in a live broadcast by the network to commemorate "the great man") are the hero's conflicting emotions about his increasingly unpleasant and "phoney" task…especially since he was being all but promoted as the deceased's successor on the airwaves!

Ultimately, the trump-cards here – which make all the difference – are the smartly cynical script (co-adapted by novel author Al Morgan) and a first-rate cast that, apart from Ferrer (in fine form), includes: real-life father and son Ed and Keenan Wynn (credited with, respectively, discovering and nurturing the ungrateful and opportunistic titular character); Julie London (as a chanteuse and his alcoholic mistress); and Dean Jagger (as the Machiavellian network head). Incidentally, the copy I viewed of this one was pretty substandard for the digital era (which has well and truly spoiled us movie-buffs, it must be said!) and, while a somewhat better-quality version does exist online, I had difficulty acquiring it...
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10/10
The Dark Side of a Public Icon
theowinthrop21 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Jose Ferrer's career has not been given the study that it deserves. In an industry that enjoys "firsts" it is rarely noted that if Emil Jannings was the first Oscar winner for Best actor, and first German to win that award, and if George Arliss was the first Englishman to win the Best Actor Oscar, and if Claudette Colbert was the first actress of French ancestry to win the Oscar, and if Hattie MacDaniell was the first African-American actress to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar...Ferrer was the first Puerto Rican, or actor of Spanish ancestry, to win the Oscar for best actor. His bravura performance as Cyrano in the 1950 movie (based on his stage production) is still worthy of viewing. But it came after years of Broadway performances, at least one of which should have been filmed: his Iago opposite Paul Robeson's Othello. Actually Ferrer's Iago may have been a better acting job than Cyrano was.

Ferrer never did badly on camera - he was equally effective as the romantic, doomed Cyrano, the crippled artistic genius Toulouse Lautrec, the Jewish American naval officer who saves the defendants in THE CAINE MUTINY, the anti-Semitic German salesman in SHIP OF FOOLS, and the alcoholic ham actor training the hero in ENTER LAUGHING. It was rare for him to be in a role he could not control. And he was still doing Broadway productions into the 1980s, and doing television shows (like a recurring comic turn as an eccentric billionaire in NEWHART) into the 1990s.

In the 1950s he directed several films - not sufficiently enough to merit discussion by film societies or film critics. Of these, THE GREAT MAN appears to be the best one. It has been compared on this thread several times to CITIZEN KANE for two reasons. First it is based on a real life model in public communications. Secondly it's structure resembles KANE.

Ferrer plays Joe Harris, who works for a network headed by Philip Carleton (Dean Jagger). Harris comes to work one day, and learns that a leading network icon, Herb Fuller, has been killed in a car wreck. Carleton assigns Harris (who works in the news division) to do a television special honoring "the great man". He is put underneath Fuller's producer, Sid Moore (Keenan Wynn). Harris is told that if he does a really good, memorable job on this assignment...well his own career will take off.

Now on the surface this is like Jerry Thompson's assignment by Rawlston to investigate Charles Foster Kane's life, and figure out what "Rosebud" means. But Rawlston is never shown telling Thompson that if he does a good job he will get bigger and better assignments in the future. Welles was taking a look at the character of Kane (whom we see in that film - Welles plays him! - from young man to middle aged man - to elderly man - to corpse). We never see Fuller (though we hear him once on an old radio broadcast). Kane is a sympathetic figure ruined by having too much (i.e., a fortune) and not having the strength of a good home life as a kid. We really never know much about Fuller's youth. Presumably he grew up in a middle class environment, but was always a louse.

No, THE GREAT MAN, is a KANE-like film, in the central figure is obviously supposed to be someone well known (like Hearst), but it is more. For as the facts reveal how lousy and selfish and cruel Fuller was to everyone who was around him, Harris discovers traces of the same cynicism and misuse of power in everyone above him. Moore is not mournful at the loss of Fuller - he felt Fuller was a trial to work with, and he feels it is typical of Fuller's selfishness that he died while driving drunk (of course, Moore refuses to notice his own defects of character, such as basically ordering Harris not to do any negative show on Fuller...if he knows what is good for him). Carleton is more distant and smoother, but it is soon apparent to Harris that he is enjoying playing one underling (Moore) against another (Harris) to see who will do the station better service.

Fuller is based on Arthur Godfrey, the popular radio and television personality first on the news (he broadcast-ed the coverage of FDR's funeral in 1945) and then on morning and afternoon television shows. Actually this is not the only assault on Godfrey, who was an egomaniac, and noted for petty vicious acts (the firing of Julius La Rosa on the air is the most notable one). Godfrey was a southerner, and the character of "Lonesome Roads" in A FACE IN THE CROWD is based on him (especially as Godfrey played a mean ukulele, like Andy Griffith's mean guitar as Roads). A hint of Godfrey may have been in "Wee Geordie MacGregor" (Peter Sellers), the nasty television host in the comedy THE NAKED TRUTH, who is liked by elderly viewers mainly (as was Godfrey).

Harris slowly discovers nothing in the record that is used (except for the love his fans felt for Fuller). He used and discarded people left and right. His most moving service (in a blood plasma drive) was really faked. And the last straw is hearing the story of how he physically wrecked a small radio station he worked at that belonged to Ed Wynn (a very moving performance by the comedian turned actor). But he still is being countered by Moore's moves, including using a hack to do a pro-Fuller show to be put on at the first sign that Harris may "tell the truth". It becomes a battle to the last moment whose version of the story of Fuller is going to be told. And Carleton is watching with avid interest.

Definitely different in approach to CITIZEN KANE. Definitely worth watching.
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7/10
It started on a Tuesday. It was a Tuesday like any other Tuesday of the week
sol-kay5 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS***At his office at the giant Amalgamated Broadcast System, ABS, TV and radio network gossip broadcaster Joe Harris, Jose Ferrer,is contacted by his friend and manager Sid Moore,Keenan Wynn, with shocking and earth shaking news. Joe is told that his friend and mentor in the broadcast business Herb Fuller was smashed up a a car accident and may not survive. Rushing to the hospital were Fuller is being cared for Joe and Sid are told by his attending physician Dr. O'Connor, Edward Platt, that Fuller had passed away within the hour.

The world of broadcasting had lost one of it's greatest personalities as well as the champion of the Amrerican working man and women and besides giving Herb Fuller the send-off that he so rightfully deserves Joe is told that he's to give an hour long coast to coast broadcast on Fullers life that Friday. Joe goes about his business in finding out about the great Herb Fullers life and finds out a lot more then he expected. Fuller wasn't exactly the man of the people that he was made out to be over the last 23 years. In fact Fuller was a cheat liar drunk and wife beater; and those are just some of his good qualities.

Joe as hard as he tries can't find a good thing to say about Fuller from the many people that he interviews who knew the "Great Man". Fullers fellow broadcasters as well as his estranged wife singer Carol Larson, Julie London, paint a picture of him as a nasty and vindictive person who was only interested in himself and nobody else. It's even hinted in the movie that Fuller's accident wasn't exactly accidental; his car brakes were criminally tampered with to make sure that he slid off the road and killed himself.

The one thing in Fuller's favor was his timely broadcasts from the front lines in WWII pleading to the American people to give blood for the boys fighting the Nazis who were being ground down by them on the bloody Weatern Front in Europe. It turns out that even that was a fraud on Fullers part with him actually being in a Paris cat-house getting drunk and partying with the hookers instead of risking his life with the GI's on the front lines where he supposedly made his famous broadcasts.

Joe risking his job but not his integrity goes on the air to tell the American people the truth about their idol and champion Herb Fuller as the movie "The Great Man" ends. Joe himself was being manipulated by both Sid and the president of ABS Philip Carleton, Dean Jagger,to take Fuller's spot on the network broadcast as his both heir apparent and replacement. Joe coming clean on Fuller on the memorial broadcast that he was supposed to give destroyed Fullers legacy as the great man that he was supposed to be. It also destroyed Herb Fuller from being used to further the careers of those unscrupulous individuals, like Sid & Philp Carleton, who latched on to him and kept the secret of his sordid life and actions from the public who both loved and adored him.
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7/10
Do we broadcast the legend?
bkoganbing27 June 2015
A radio broadcaster and news commentator named Herb Fuller is injured and later dies in the hospital with word according to his doctor Edward Platt that aren't fit for broadcast. The radio network that he worked for has a vested interest in the personality of Fuller and what do they do. In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance editor Carleton Young had the ready answer about when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Entertainment journalist Jose Ferrer is chosen to host a special radio tribute broadcast and it's put out through the grapevine that Ferrer could be the replacement for The Great Man. All Ferrer has to do is put together a show that fosters the legend of the late Mr. Fuller.

Easier said than done because all Ferrer comes up with in talking to those around him is what a no good rat this guy was. The man had not a sincere bone in his body, a two perfect two faced Janus with one face for the public and a completely different one for those who knew him.

Ferrer who directed this film as well as starred in it made sure that the supporting cast was a good one with some unforgettable roles. Ferrer the director was not interested in this being simply a star vehicle for the actor. He got some great performances out of people like Dean Jagger as the network president, Keenan Wynn as the manager of the late Mr. Fuller and Ferrer's manager, Julie London as Fuller's ex-wife, a drunken washed up nightclub singer and Ed Wynn as the eccentric radio station owner where Fuller got his start.

Keenan Wynn is especially interested. He's working on one grand agenda of his own. He's as cynical a human being as has ever been portrayed on the big screen, but in a really key scene with Ferrer he puts the final kibosh to the legend of Herb Fuller and shows he's got a really good reason for his cynicism. It's one of Keenan Wynn's best moments on the big screen.

The Great Man has been compared to Citizen Kane and rightly so. Unlike Kane where those who are digging for the facts are bland and faceless with the accent on the recollections by the survivors of Charles Foster Kane and the portrait they create of Kane in their flashbacks. Here we have no flashbacks, the accent is on how Ferrer deals with them giving them the real story on the legend and what he will do with it. The following year Elia Kazan in A Face In The Crowd took a different approach. We see the legend of Lonesome Rhodes built up by Andy Griffith and how it destructs in the end with Patricia Neal seeing it as a public duty.

Citizen Kane, A Face In The Crowd, and The Great Man and for that matter The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are all really about the same topic, the difference between public personalities and the private lives behind them. The Great Man for some reason has been sadly neglected unlike the other three films. That is a pity because it is a film with great performances and some interesting things to say.
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7/10
The radio personality
jotix10011 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Usually after the death of a big celebrity, his fan base, as well as the audiences that followed him, cannot cope with the loss and the vacuum left behind. Such is the case when Herb Fuller, a radio personality dies in car accident. Amalgamated, the broadcasting network where Fuller was one of the star commentators, dispatch Sid Moore to the site of the crash. He takes along Joe Harris, another newsman who is tapped to cover the passing of the beloved Herb Fuller.

As Joe Harris begins digging into the life of the late Herb Fuller, a new picture emerges. While some people loved the radio man, his detractors are not exactly crying. After the network orchestrate a dignified send off for Fuller where the public is invited to pay a visit to the makeshift chapel, Joe Harris is told to come with a tribute. Harris' own ambitions come into play. Joe Harris might be the substitute for the dead man if things go the way the big wheels of Amalgameted expect it to be.

What comes out as Harris starts digging into Fuller's past, is a contradiction. Joe Harris gets an unexpected visit from the man who gave Fuller his break into radio. Sid Moore is a pivotal witness to the whole research project as he offers Harris some WWII tapes, long forgotten, but clearly a product of Sid' own imagination, as the facts in the recordings were false.

An interesting production of Al Morgan's novel in collaboration with its director and star, Jose Ferrer. The film shows a slight resemblance to real life radio celebrity Arthur Godfrey, who ruled the airwaves for years. Whether it was Mr. Godfrey, or not, was the subject of debate when the film opened. Mr. Ferrer, one of the most talented actors of his generation, makes the film in a sort of documentary style, as Joe Harris must contact and interview the different people in the life of the late Herb Fuller.

What Mr. Ferrer achieved was good ensemble performances from his excellent cast. Keenan Wynn made an impression as the shallow Sid Moore. Dean Jagger, one of the best character actors of that era puts in an appearance as the network CEO. Julie London is seen in one sequence as one of the dead man's female interests. Keenan Wynn makes a good contribution with his Paul Beasely. Joanne Gilbert plays Harris' secretary. Jose Ferrer, a generous director gives his actors most of the opportunities to shine.

Seen recently on a cable channel, this not often seen film deals with celebrity and what really goes on behind the public figures lives.
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9/10
A lost classic
MOscarbradley23 August 2016
I've often been chastised for posting obits in which I have been less than flattering about the person who has passed on; not nasty by any means, merely truthful about their shortcomings. In "The Great Man" that is the dilemma facing Jose Ferrer; should he sing the praises of the 'Great Man' of the title, a recently deceased and much loved, at least by the people who only saw his public face, radio and television personality or should he tell the truth and expose him for the monster he was.

Ferrer's film came out around the same time as Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" and while Kazan's film, which plays out in much the same ballpark, has gone on to become a classic, Ferrer's remains virtually unseen; personally I think it's a great picture, a testament to Ferrer's often undervalued talent. There are no great cinematic flourishes here, as there are in "Citizen Kane", another film that Ferrer's has often been compared to. This is a simple, literary piece, almost a series of talking heads as Ferrer, who also stars, interviews those who knew 'the great man', including his mistress, an excellent Julie London, and best of all, Ed Wynn as the man who first discovered him. Wynn's magnificent here, (he was nominated for both the Golden Globe and a BAFTA), and Ferrer is canny enough to give him his dues. As Wynn describes his feelings Ferrer allows his camera to slowly creep up on him. He only has this one scene but it's one of the great performances by an actor in a supporting role. His son Keenan is also superb as another executive out for what he can get. As I've said, this movie is almost impossible to see, at least here in the UK, but if you get the chance take it; it's one of the best American films of the fifties.
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A Welles Copy?
danldhatu26 May 2001
This is a very interesting film for a variety of reasons. In many ways, it's a CITIZEN KANE knock-off, but sometimes in reverse. We see the reporter who is putting together the story of the great man, but we never see the great man himself. As in "Kane," the ex-wife is an alcoholic singer. There is also a "Rosebud" of sorts-a deathbed obscenity. Well worth watching!
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Jose Ferrer Director
zontar6 August 2002
Jose Ferrer should be better known as a director. Yes, it has some of the plot of Well's Kane, but it has more of the feel of a Jack Webb flick, he himself a greatly under rated director. Even Julie London, Webb's wife is in it.. Hard boiled hero, quirky supporting characters that are given a rounded humanity, and a great cast. See this film when it plays on Turner. And check out Webb's non Dragnet films; 30, the DI, Pete Kelly's Blues and The last time I saw Archie.
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8/10
***
edwagreen26 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Truly a film questioning ethics and morale values is this 1956 film.

While accumulating material to use for a eulogy in memory of a radio personality who died in an auto wreck, our reporter, Jose Ferrer, discovers that the person who was loved by the people wasn't exactly made of true virtuous ideals.

Ferrer is excellent and is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast- Keenan Wynn as a loud mouth agent looking to take full advantage of the guy's death, Ed Wynn, who gave the guy his start and lived to regret it, and Julie London, as a singer in the guy's orbit. Jim Backus and Dean Jagger are typical company men, and the latter, the president of the Broadcasting Association will go to the way of the wind when it suits him best.

The 3 interviewed at the viewing for the fallen hero represented cross-sections of opinion here and Henny Backus is quite effective in her brief screen performance.

Great to see that morality won out over greed and desire in the end.
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7/10
Network 56
st-shot6 June 2017
Jose Ferrer stars and directs in this film that follows a Citizen Kane path in search of the man behind the famous public figure. Sans Welles' towering command of film language it is benefited by its stripped down expeditious telling as Ferrer peels back the past of the "great" man.

Popular radio reporter Herb Fuller is killed in an automobile accident sending execs at ABC (Amalgamated Broadcast Company) into a panic. Joe Harris (Ferrer) a candidate to replace Fuller is assigned to do a show on the life and career of the beloved on air personality. As he interviews fans and especially intimates, the true nature of the man is far from flattering.

The Great Man wisely keeps the subject of the film from appearing anywhere in it. He is fleshed out through people in his past and when Harris is faced with giving a puff piece or delivering the truth it drags his integrity into the fray which may threaten his rosy looking future with the company.

Banal visually the film is comprised of a series of mostly apartment interiors where Harris and his cumbersome portable tape recorder collect the ugly truth. As Harris, Ferrer remains mostly poker faced throughout fighting his own internal struggle as well as crossing the line as a reporter with his interviewees. Ed Wynn as a small station owner offers up a touching and wonderfully dignified performance while his son Keenan playing Harris' cynical agent chews some scenery in an overall strong offering. Singer Julie London surprises as a used up boozed out side piece to Fuller. Dean Jagger as ABCs cool, wheels always turning CEO turns out to be the most fascinating character of all as he calmly weighs option and wheels power over underlings from sniveling yes men to the eager Harris. It is Network 56 without the rancor and absurdist notion with Ferrer's stoic Harris replacing Peter Finch's ranting Howard Beale. It also lacks the fireworks and outstanding Chayefsky script but it does make its point about corporate power, the media and the way it manipulates the public with hardly ever raising its voice.
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2/10
Terrible audio
jamesroyhold25 April 2017
I can't say if this was a good movie or not. Mainly because I had to struggle to understand what was being said. Maybe if the thing had closed captioning it would have been different, but it plays as though they placed the microphone in one corner of the room and the actors in the other. Jose Ferrer in particular talks like he had a mouthful of marbles. Only in his actual radio scenes does he bother to enunciate clearly. Everyone talks so softly, except Keenan Wynn who shouts his lines but still cannot be understood. Only two scenes contain a level volume of dialogue: Ferrer's meeting with Ed Wynn and his solo encounter with Dean Jagger. This is especially frustrating in the last scene when Ferrer's character goes off script and Wynn tried to stop him but Jagger orders him to let it go on. There's some dialogue between Wynn and Jagger which is meant to be the turning point of the show, only again it was impossible to make out a word they were saying. I ran it back twice trying to figure it out, but it was no use. So, 2 stars. Good audio and clear diction might have made for a great movie. Otherwise it delivers 90 minutes of background noise.
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