A Face in the Crowd (1957)

A Face in the Crowd (1957) — Every now and then you watch a movie from way back when (1957 in this case) and it’s staggering just how prophetic it turns out to be. It’s also shocking to see someone as lovably wholesome as Andy Griffith playing very much against type (though since this was his very first movie, I guess he didn’t have a “type” yet). The story is about a drifter named Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Griffith) who gets put on the radio one day by a producer named Marcia (Patricia Neal) as part of her “Face In the Crowd” radio show which spotlights random people. Rhodes’ folksy nature and songs soon attract a big following and he becomes a local celebrity. His celebrity only grows and grows as he goes on to Memphis and eventually New York City. Already a man who acts mostly out of self-interest, the bigger he gets the more selfish and petty he grows. At the point he becomes a national celebrity, he gets roped into the politics game assisted his corporate sponsor with endorsing an archconservative candidate for President of the United States. Griffith gives a raw and powerful performance and it’s easy to see why he’s lasted so long (though, lovable TV dad is not where you’d expect him to go after this). Elia Kazan’s film is eerily prophetic (after all, a wacky “morning zoo” DJ went on to become one of the biggest voices of the American Right) and as usual he brings out the best in every member of the cast. Particularly worth mentioning is Walter Matthau as a writer who sees through Rhodes’ bullshit. This is a great film and you should check it out.

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