A FACE IN THE CROWD
(director: Elia Kazan; screenwriters: Budd Schulberg/based on his story “The Arkansas Traveler”; cinematographer: Gayne Rescher/Harry Stradling, Jr.; editor: Gene Milford; music: Tom Glazer; cast: Andy Griffith (Lonesome Rhodes), Patricia Neal (Marcia Jeffries), Anthony Franciosa (Joey Kiely), Walter Matthau (Mel Miller), Lee Remick (Betty Lou Fleckum), Howard Smith (J. B. Jeffries), Percy Waram (Gen. Hainesworth), Rod Brasfield (Beanie), Paul McGrath (Macey), Marshall Neilan (Senator Worthington Fuller), Kay Medford (First Mrs. Rhodes); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Elia Kazan; Warner Bros.; 1957)
“It’s a biting ‘rise and fall’ satire, sending out a warning to watch out for legends created on the boob tube.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s a biting ‘rise and fall’ satire, sending out a warning to watch out for legends created on the boob tube–they might be hypocrites and not as wholesome as you think they are if you just judge them by how they appear on the screen. It’s based on the Budd Schulberg story “The Arkansas Traveler,” with Mr. Schulberg also responsible for the screenplay. Elia Kazan (“East of Eden”/”Splendor in the Grass”/”A Streetcar Named Desire”) directs with force this comical essay on media demagoguery. The film centers around the two-faced sinister hick character modeled on popular at the time radio personality Arthur Godfrey. Andy Griffith makes an auspicious acting debut playing the Arkansas hillbilly drifter Larry Rhodes, who reaches the top and goes on a power-trip only to come crashing down because of hubris and that he made the wrong enemy.
Rhodes gets discovered as a penniless guitar-strumming country singer in jail while sleeping off an arrest for being drunk and disorderly by radio producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), who works for her uncle’s (Howard Smith) radio station KGRK in Pickett, Arkansas. Marcia nicknames the charmer Lonesome, and his homespun humor and simplistic rural philosophy goes over big in northeastern Arkansas radio. Lonesome soon hooks up with a Memphis television show, and then goes network and comes to New York. He’s guided by Marcia and teamed up with cynical writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau), wise guy unprincipled gofer-turned agent Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa) and an old-fashioned huckster elitist advertising man named Macey (Paul McGrath). The popular Lonesome is courted by sponsors because he knows how to peddle their products to the gullible public, whom he pretends to like but sneers at them under his breath. Lonesome’s main sponsor, Gen. Hainesworth (Percy Waram), is a right-wing fanatic, who makes secret deals with Lonesome to help the scheming Senator Worthington Fuller, who is not good with the media, get elected president.
Becoming full of himself and using his newly found influence to his own advantage, Lonesome goes overboard when he breaks the heart of Marcia–his most loyal ally. She at last sees through his insincerity and feels betrayed that he proposes to her even though he’s secretly married, and when forgiven runs off with a floozy down home high school cheerleader (Lee Remick, her screen debut) while still pretending to love her. The scorned woman gets even. This country Will Rogers type of savant turns out not to be the real deal, and Kazan in the third act (the film’s weakest) goes on a moral diatribe against such demagogues. Unfortunately that warning is still needed today.
Besides Griffith’s tour de force performance, the film is notable for the cameos of the following popular figures of the 1950s: Mike Wallace, Bennett Cerf, John Cameron Swayze, Betty Furness, Sam Levenson, Virginia Graham, and Walter Winchell.
REVIEWED ON 11/30/2007 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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