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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.76%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 2.94%
Total Crap: 5.88%

2 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Face In The Crowd, A
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by John Linton Roberson

"The Superior Ancestor To NETWORK"
5 stars

Elia Kazan is an asshole. A lying, hypocritical, betraying self-righteous prick who sent his friends to jail or unemployment to save his own sorry ass. And yet I love his films. I've no trouble reconciling that. His sins are in inverse proportion to his power as a director, of which he may, sadly, be the greatest of the 50s. And here he did the best satire of mass media ever, decades before its time.

A FACE IN THE CROWD concerns the rise and fall of a folksy media celebrity, and the media's manipulative and cunning use of the very concept of "folksiness."

Something you ought to know first. The protagonist of the film, Lonesome Rhodes, is portrayed by Andy Griffith(prior to his TV career by a few years). Prior to seeing this I didn't realize what a canny actor he, at least, once was. He will shock the hell out of you here.

He portrays a rather nasty hobo found in a jail during a live broadcast done by a local Arkansas radio station. The interviewer, the daughter of the station's owner(played wonderfully by Patricia Neal), finds that Larry Rhodes--the hobo--is a bit of a blues singer & guitarist(and throughout Griffith's voice is the best thing this side of Leadbelly), and decides to give him a show of his own, where he swiftly becomes beloved to the listeners as "Lonesome" Rhodes, doing a variation of Will Rogers' act--funny moral anecdotes interspersed with gently-stated social criticism. After two incidents in which he tells the people to commit some humiliation on first the sheriff and then his own boss, he gets hired for his own TV show in Memphis. He promptly gets fired for deliberately and repeatedly insulting his sponsor, while making sure his audience knows he's on THEIR side, the side of the fabled "Common Man," or "Just Plain Folks" as they call it in his show's theme. And immediately gets snapped up by the networks and is a huge hit and icon virtually overnight, his smiling, earnest bumpkin's face warming the hearts of viewers coast-to-coast with his homespun wisdom.

Off-camera, he drinks and whores almost constantly and insults everyone who works for or with him. He advertises an "alertness pill" which does absolutely nothing(which he knows). He merchandises his name into a global empire of products. And he has nothing but seething contempt for his audience, who he believes are morons who will do anything he tells then, which they generally, in fact, do. This reaches its peak when he helps a senator with somewhat conservative-tending-to-fascist tendencies to get elected, pushing him on the show and privately instructing him how to look telegenic, never talk about issues, and basically how to be a candidate for the TV age--before the Kennedy defeat of Nixon, even.

I can't emphasize enough how gripping Griffith's performance is, especially given his entire celebrity is due to just this brand of "folksiness," and here he shows the snarl behind the grin. You begin to wonder about Rhodes' past when a drifter, which you only hear bits & pieces of--you almost wonder if he was a serial killer, his mood swings are so sudden, his personality so schizoid. I don't know who won Best Actor that year but Griffith, just for this, should've been considered.(and believe me, I'm not fan of his usual work)

Eventually Rhodes pushes this too far and is revealed, quite suddenly, to the audience for what he is, and utterly destroyed. I won't say exactly how, but once there was a kid's show host who accidentally said, "That oughta hold the little cocksuckers for a while" when he though the mikes were off. Think of that.

The parodies of early TV, satirizing all sorts of TV ads and, indeed, the nonsensical formats of TV itself, are sharp and biting, and also put the lie to the myth of the "unaware" 50s. Budd Schulberg's screenplay is cynical and sarcastic in a weirdly post-50s way all through, and with the exception of Walter Matthau's pompous character(as a very unhappy writer for Rhodes' show), never resorts to Stanley Kramerish preachiness.

I also would rate it higher than the still-brilliant(and more relevant each year) NETWORK, because rather than show the absurdity of how TV would react to an absurd situation, it deconstructs what you may be watching now, the lowest-common-denominator show, whether that's religion, wrestling, or Rush Limbaugh. I still find it shocking it was released when it was; it might not have but for Hollywood's defensive war against TV at the time.

One of the best 10 films since 1950. See it and be alarmed & amazed. And throw your TV out the window afterward.

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originally posted: 02/17/00 07:06:57
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User Comments

7/31/17 FireWithFire Elia Kazan's 2nd anti-White Southerner propaganda "films" 1 stars
1/14/16 Robin J A frighteningly true through-the-looking-glass take on politics and TV. 5 stars
2/28/11 R.W. Welch A shade over-the-top, but has some sharp writing. 4 stars
8/22/05 DM The makers of this film are psychics. 5 stars
9/22/04 bob Good film 4 stars
1/13/04 Rebecka Tew It has a good message--very much teaches truth. The ending gave me something to think abou 5 stars
10/10/03 Clawed Le Mew More relevant today than ever 5 stars
12/28/02 Latta Layne Everyone should watch this movie! Griffith is amazing. This ain't Mayberry! 5 stars
10/15/02 Carswell Lonesome Rhodes is irritating 2 stars
5/22/02 Richard Bowen Not to be missed. Andy Griffith's performance is riveting. 5 stars
4/13/02 sam phillips the best movies ever made! 5 stars
3/02/02 Jeff Mangum A wonderful comment on the political power of television 4 stars
2/25/02 Virtually ignored film; buried by tv powers. 5 stars
11/10/01 Elkin Brown Eerily prophetic about the current unholy relationship between politics and entertainment 5 stars
10/14/01 gus never seen it - i just dont like elia kazan... 1 stars
10/08/01 Bobbie Stoehr I loved this movie. I watched in my Liturature II class. 4 stars
9/14/01 Scott Lind Who'd have thought it from Andy G.? 5 stars
9/11/01 James Keig stellar 5 stars
8/11/00 Curmudgeon Excellent! Prescient! On the mark. I can't believe I fissed this at the time it premiered. 5 stars
4/24/00 bill benzon this is a keeper 5 stars
2/17/00 John Linton Roberson Bizarrely ahead of its time. SEE IT. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Elia Kazan

Written by
  Budd Schulberg

  Andy Griffith
  Patricia Neal
  Anthony Franciosa
  Walter Matthau
  Lee Remick

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