I’ve blogged about “A Face in the Crowd” before, and I think it’s gotten a lot of exposure in the past few years (or maybe I’m just more aware of it). But, on the off chance that you haven’t yet seen this American classic, let me point out that you now have two chances to do so. It will air at 12:45 a.m. Central time (1:45 Eastern) on the morning of July 6. That screening had already been planned before Andy Griffith’s passing; it’s part of a “guest programmer” night of films selected by Spike Lee.
Then, the movie will air again at 7 p.m. Central (8 Eastern) on July 18, as part of a memorial tribute to Griffith which TCM announced today.
Be forewarned: this is not, repeat NOT, Andy Taylor, or Matlock. In fact, the character of Lonesome Rhodes was so unlikeable that Griffith – who had been taught Method acting and threw himself into the role, under the direction of Method advocate Elia Kazan – found himself treating his friends and family badly even when he wasn’t in front of the cameras. He didn’t like that, and resolved to play nicer characters going forward.
The movie begins with Marsha Jeffries (Patricia Neal) as the producer and host of a small-town Arkansas man-on-the-street radio show called “A Face In The Crowd.” As a change of pace, the local sheriff invites her to talk to some of the inmates in the jail. She is fascinated by Larry Rhodes (Griffith), a vagrant soon to be released after serving time for some sort of minor infraction. Rhodes turns out to be able to sing and has a Will Rogers-like way with words. Jeffries convinces her boss to give Rhodes his own radio show. She bills him as “Lonesome” Rhodes, a name he initially hates.
Rhodes becomes a sensation, moving from Arkansas radio to Memphis television to national television, learning at each step that, from his bully pulpit, he can stir the masses to action. The fame, and the power that comes with it, quickly brings out the worst in him.
The movie also features great early performances by Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa and Lee Remick, as well as cameo appearances by Walter Winchell and Mike Wallace, among others, as themselves.
In a lot of ways, the movie’s messages about the corrosive influence of fame, and the risks of political demagoguery, are even more relevant today than they were in 1957.