A Face in the Crowd
Many of us think of Andy Griffith as Matlock or Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Like most stars, Griffith had a long road to stardom, but he established himself on film before moving to television.
In the film, Griffith stars as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a convict and alcoholic doing time in an Arkansas prison for a drunk and disorderly charge. One fateful day, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neel), a local radio producer, goes to the prison to gather material for her man on the street program, A Face in the Crowd. She meets up with Rhodes and is instantly charmed with his on-air performance, even though his off-air personality leaves something to be desired. He is itching to leave Arkansas for Florida, but Jeffries has other plans. She wants to give him his own radio show.
The show is a hit as listeners, especially women, hang on his every word and enjoy his colorful stories about his upbringing and family. Soon, a Memphis television station decides to give him a chance, and Jeffries comes along to ensure the success of the show.
Will Rhodes' act play on TV? Will he be able to appease advertisers? Will he be able to maintain his relationship with Marcia once his ego starts to balloon?
Writer Budd Schulberg creates one of the earliest examinations of the cult of personality and the power of television. Television has always been viewed with suspicion and awe due to its power. Schulberg is able to foster that fear in the viewer as we watch Rhodes' powers of persuasion and contempt for the audience. He makes a powerful statement about the exagerrated and misplaced importance we place on media personalities and the fleeting nature of fame. Also, he finds a place to ridicule the modern political campaign and marketing techniques in a way that makes you think the movie was written in the 90's.
Patricia Neel is good as the woman swept away by Rhodes' charm even though she knows his dark side. She has created Rhodes and the show, but he reaps the rewards of fame and fortune. Will she be able to deal with it? Will her love for him blind her to his true nature?
Walter Matthau makes another pleasantly surprising appearance. In the film, he plays Mel Miller, a writer for Rhodes' television program and the conscience for Marcia Jeffries. He sees the true nature of Rhodes' personality and his inability to deal with fame. Matthau's closing monologue about the fate of stars and disgraced media personalities is amazingly poignant and on target.
After becoming familiar with the soft, wholesome image Griffith has portrayed for many years, I was fascinated by this stunning contrast. Griffith is able to create an utterly contemptible character who is able to charm when he must. He is best as we watch his ego soar with his popularity to new heights and his closing scenes are Oscar-worthy.
The film is loosely based on the career of Andy Griffith, who started his with a preacher act he performed at Rotary clubs. He became a monologist, in the style of Will Rodgers, and charmed audiences with down home tales of his family and the odd ball behaviors and situations they found themselves in. He found his way to Broadway before making a handful of movies. When his movie career seemed to be at a plateau, he became the star of The Andy Griffith Show.
If you have ever been fascinated with the power of television or want to see a different Andy Griffith, check out A Face in the Crowd.
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Bud Schulberg
Andy Griffith Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes
Patricia Neel ... . Marcia Jeffries
Lee Remick .. ... Betty Lou
Walter Matthau .. . Mel Miller
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