Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Viewing: A Face in the Crowd, 1957

This is certainly not Mayberry. Aunt Bee, Otis and Opie are nowhere to be found and Barney most assuredly would not approve. Here, we see Andy Griffith as the antithesis of his long-running TV counterpart.

This is the story of Lonesome Rhodes (Griffith), a drifter and criminal who is discovered (quite by accident) in an Arkansas prison by Marcia Jeffries, a radio producer. Jeffries (Patricia Neal) enlists Rhodes (whose real name was Larry) to sing on her radio program. Rhodes is an instant hit and quickly becomes a radio staple. His behavior, at first, displeases the show’s sponsors as he continually mocks their products. He’s fired, but his fan-base is so enormous that he’s quickly sky-rocketed to fame.

With writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) and Marcia at his side, Rhodes embarks on a television career and becomes one of the most celebrated popular figures in the country. Insufferable and foul, Rhodes is somehow attractive to people who can’t see his true nature behind his aw-shucks, country persona. Marcia finds herself entangled with Rhodes and soon becomes engaged to him, only to be heartbroken when Rhodes returns from a tour with a new bride (Lee Remick in her first film role).

Rhodes soon becomes involved in politics and as the loathsome man is about to be appointed to an important cabinet position, Marcia realizes she must destroy the monster that she created, and the man she loves.

Andy Griffith gives a brilliant, and truly disturbing performance which makes you wonder who much of his real personality was Andy Taylor and how much was Lonesome Rhodes. The character is said to be based on several similar performers of the 1950’s including Arthur Godfrey, and possibly an evil Will Rogers.

The picture, written by Bud Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan, is an interesting glimpse into the power of celebrity in both culture and politics and how we, as a nation, allow ourselves to be enticed by corruption. For a look at Andy Griffith in a rare dramatic role and at some exceptional performances, this film is an absolute must.

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