A Face In The Crowd Movie Review

Every great film has a great screenplay, and A Face in the Crowd is no exception. Budd Schulberg's script is sharp and ambitious and works as a psychological study, slightly over-the-top political satire, and a morality play. But it is Andy Griffith's awesome, energetic, nuanced performance of a demagogue that makes this film a classic.

A reporter in rural Arkansas (Patricia Neal) interviews a bum in a local jail (Andy Griffith) and discovers he can sing, so she gives him a spot on her local radio show and christens him Lonesome Rhodes. He turns out to be a fountain of homespun charm who is especially empathetic with women listeners (the premise is not improbable -- many careers were launched in a similar way). On his first night on TV, Rhodes makes love to the audience while raising money for a homeless family. He becomes an overnight celebrity, rising from national TV star into advertising, opinion-making, and finally becomes a political kingmaker.

Andy Griffith's performance is a stunner, and his first moments of self-awareness at the end of the movie are remarkable. The rest of the cast is equally good, especially Neal as Rhodes' enabler (whose journey to self-awareness tracks Rhodes' career) and Walter Matthau as a cynical underling who jumps ship. Rod Brasfield is humorous as one of Rhodes' Arkansas cronies who is retained as a yes man.

Griffith portrays Lonesome Rhodes as a human whirlwind, a combination of public servant and public exploiter, in which idealism and egoism are confounded from the beginning. The message is not a simple one -- power corrupts, sure, but people who want power are often corrupt to begin with, and it's hard (and maybe pointless) to tell the difference. Among many real-life models, Griffith's portrayal definitely anticipates Bill Clinton -- a compulsive womanizer, smooth as syrup, empathetic and egoistic, smart and dumb, doing good things for bad reasons.

Patricia Neal's character is no Hillary Clinton -- she protects Rhodes out of love and loyalty, not ambition and cynicism -- but she also plays the enabler/victim role that Hillary was forced into (an inevitable role for those who surround demagogues, I guess). As the creator of Rhodes' myth, she makes the courageous choice at the end of the film to pull the trigger on the myth. (The worst thing about the Clintons was not the sex or even the lying, but that they encouraged Americans to forget our healthy cynicism about politicians.)

The 1950s setting dates A Face in the Crowd, but its relevance is still obvious. Populist pandering has been part of American culture since Andrew Jackson, and it's still with us. In fact, the exploitation of flyover America has gotten ever more cynical -- what with Music Row and lowest-common-denominator TV and televangelists and George W. Bush (with his studied mispronunciation of simple words). Next time you feel like you're getting fooled again by a demagogue, rent this movie and get centered.


Comments

A Face In The Crowd Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1957

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

Kiefer Sutherland Issues Professional Response To Freddie Prinze Jr.'s "Unprofessional" Criticism

The 47 year-old actor only had fond memories of working with Prinze Jr...

Kiefer Sutherland Issues Professional Response To Freddie Prinze Jr.'s

Jessie J's New Single "Bang Bang" Is A Summer Playlist Staple

Ariana Grande is checking off rap babes to collaborate with one by one...

Jessie J's New Single

Reason #23435 To Like Chris Pratt - "Guardians Of The Galaxy" Star Connects With Fans At Charity Screening

Chris Pratt may just be the best human – in Hollywood, anyway. The Guardians...

Reason #23435 To Like Chris Pratt -

Zayn Malik told to kill himself after controversial tweet

One Direction’s Zayn Malik has attracted enormous criticism on Twitter after simply...

Zayn Malik told to kill himself after controversial tweet

La Toya Jackson - Feels Like Love

La Toya Jackson is re-booting her showbiz career with a brand new music video for latest single...

La Toya Jackson - Feels Like Love Video
Advertisement

Quentin Tarantino Confirms That 'The Hateful Eight' Will Be Made For Big-Screen

Quentin Tarantino seems to have had a change of heart against the individuals...

 Quentin Tarantino Confirms That 'The Hateful Eight' Will Be Made For Big-Screen

Allegations of sexual harassment at Comic-Con

A group of young women from Philadelphia that founded a website titled...

Allegations of sexual harassment at Comic-Con

Ashton Kutcher And Mila Kunis Are Set To Tie The Knot Next Year

Excited fans first heard the news that former 'That 70's Show' co-stars...

Ashton Kutcher And Mila Kunis Are Set To Tie The Knot Next Year


More recommendations

Advertisement