Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Criterion Collection Spine #970
A washed up ole southern boy becomes an overnight sensation through the power of his dazzling on-air charisma.
"I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force... a force!"
Wow, Andy Griffith is a force of nature in his debut performance as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, in Director Elia Kazan's 'A Face in the Crowd'. In the story a radio show producer named Marcia Jeffries is looking for a unique talent, and comes across Rhodes with his guitar in an Arkansas jail. We really do know what to expect from him as he says whatever comes to mind and sings a little tune. But there is just something about his spontaneous plain-speaking approach and charm that audiences latch onto, which leads him to become a big success on the radio and then on television.
Powerful adversities and politicians take notice of Rhodes' rise in popularity, and are convinced they should use him as their spokesman to tap into his growing fanbase. Meanwhile, his Producer Marcia witnesses as her miraculous discovery goes from being everyone's best friend in front of the camera to being an egocentric monster behind the scenes.
The characters from this story reminded me a lot of the cast from one of my favorite movies 'Broadcast News.' With the new instant hit anchor, the cunning female producer, and her writer friend that likes to call the successful anchor a fraud. But while 'Broadcast News' is a romance, A Face in the Crowd becomes a tragedy.
While working in broadcasting for many years I used to see first hand how on-air talent would become entirely different people when the camera was not on. And keep in mind the influence and charm that Rhodes exhibits are the same basic characteristics that every successful politician these days must-have.
A Face in the Crowd is an entertaining ride, and you may be surprised who you pull for by the end.
"They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em."
The writer friend I mentioned earlier in this movie is played by Walter Matthau, who is extremely sharp and is right on target with his criticisms of Rhodes. Marcia at first turns a blind eye to his behavior since she is in love with Rhodes, but eventually determines something must be done when his influence becomes more corrupt. The first real sign I recall of Rhodes turning into a dirtbag, is when he calls off his engagement to Marcia, in order to marry the beautiful young winner of a baton-twirling contest that he is judging. To add insult to injury when he dumps the twirler after she cheats on him, he comes crawling back to Marcia's bed like he had never left.
Despite him being a jerk he is very entertaining to watch, and does have a smart and successful approach toward marketing. But during the climax after a show he starts talking some serious shit about his audience. And almost like a scene out of a horror movie, we see Marcia's face become highlighted as she is filled with emotion and decides to flip the switch on his mic, in order to let everyone at home hear what he really thinks about them.
"You know what the public's like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots."
It has been a long time since I have 'Citizen Kane', but the way Rhodes cries out for Marcia from that building at the end after everyone has dumped him, made me think of a similar scene I recall from Kane. You know despite Rhodes being a jerk, I was hoping in that dramatic moment that he would not get exposed (LOL), which of course would ruin him.
So the next time you are being influenced by someone your watching or reading, take a moment to consider if that person is really all they appear to be.
"You put your whole self into that laugh, don't you? ... Marcia, I put my whole self into everything I do."
Thanks for reading.
Happy movie watching ... SKOL!