Bill, Martha and their little child Hal are spending a quiet winter Sunday in their cosy house when they get an unexpected visit from Mike Nickerson and Tony Rodriguez. Mike and Tony are ... See full summary »
"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
Budd Schulberg remained involved throughout: "I went on a trip in 1955 to scout a location in Arkansas, and I've been on the set every day since shooting started in August 1956." See more »
When radio announcer shows up at jail, closeup of cornerstone states Clay County but Sheriff greets her and welcomes her to Tomahawk County jail. Clay County Arkansas is where the scene was shot. See more »
Here you see the lepers of the great television industry. Men without faces. Why, they even slide our paychecks under the door so they can pretend we're not here.
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Skewering Indictment of Television Comes Blazing Thanks to Peak Work from Kazan, Schulberg, Neal and Griffith
There are two major things that I find quite fascinating as I watch this 1957 classic. The first is the prophetic, hyper-realistic portrayal of television as a pervasive medium encroaching upon people's lives in ways unheard of back in the 1950's. The second is Andy Griffith's pull-all-the-stops performance as drunken hobo-turned-media sensation "Lonesome" Rhodes. For those who know Griffith only for his homespun TV portrayals, you will be surprised how remarkably he shows the venal underbelly and high-octane charisma of a character miles away from kindly, soft-spoken Sheriff Andy Taylor.
Master filmmaker Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg, collaborating for the second and last time after their brilliant "On the Waterfront" three years earlier, tell the story of Rhodes, a burgeoning pop-culture phenomenon thanks primarily to the efforts of Marcia Jeffries, a young radio program host who discovers him sprawled in a hangover on the floor of a rural Arkansas jail. He mesmerizes the local radio audience with an improvised country song about his predicament, "Free Man in the Morning", and this marks the beginning of his meteoric rise all the way to his own weekly national TV program. As he capitalizes on his folksy charm and empathetic manner, he becomes a power-crazed tyrant behind the scenes. A corporate tycoon wants to use Rhodes' influence to sway a Presidential campaign in his favor, and Rhodes' megalomania moves him lockstep into a Citizen Kane-like form of paranoia.
It all seems exaggerated but it's brilliantly observed much like a film that covered the same themes twenty years later, Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky's "Network". However, even with strong doses of black comedy sprinkled throughout, Kazan and Schulberg use more melodramatic elements in their skewering until the near-Shakespearian climax when Rhodes' comeuppance takes on a grandly theatrical fervor. In a way, it seems a shame that Griffith never got another chance to bring out his dark side on the big screen. While sometimes wildly undisciplined in his film debut, he dexterously shows the cunning and charisma of his character to a level that makes his national celebrity utterly credible.
Showing his amazing facility to elicit stellar work from a wide variety of actors, Kazan assembled a strong cast to back him up starting with Patricia Neal, who is just as devastating as Marcia, a woman torn between ambition, decency and her fateful attraction to Rhodes. An impossibly young Walter Matthau shows the beginnings of his cynical screen persona as Mel, a crafty television writer who de facto becomes Marcia's conscience. In their film debuts and making indelible impressions, Anthony Franciosa and Lee Remick play Joey, an office lackey who turns into Rhodes' immoral agent, and Betty Lou, a teenaged baton twirler seduced easily by Rhodes' power, respectively.
If the film has one flaw, it's that it runs on a bit long for the parable it tells especially since Rhodes' moral ambiguity is pretty much settled in the first half of the story. Nevertheless, this movie is essential viewing as it not only shows a powerful early indictment of television (and supports Marshall McLuhan's mantra, "The medium is the message") but provides another example of the under-appreciated artistry of Kazan and Schulberg. The 2005 DVD has unfortunately no commentary track but one strong extra, a half-hour 2005 featurette, "Facing the Past", which spotlights Kazan's polarizing testimony in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the threatening role of television in the 1950's, both major factors in making the film. Griffith, Neal, Schulberg are interviewed. There is also a widescreen version of the original film trailer.
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