While most Americans will be remembering the late, great Andy Griffith from his lengthy stints on two hugely popular CBS TV shows The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock, (both in perpetual reruns somewhere around the country) I’ll always be more fond of his much more compelling movie debut, A Face In The Crowd.
In this classic 1957 Elia Kazan film (which was Griffith’s big-screen debut), his character of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes explodes onto the scene in a still amazing performance that makes the movie even more enthralling to watch today. What makes the film so important is how precisely it nails Rhodes’ rise from vagrant jailbird to media superstar with his own national TV show (with help from a small town news reporter played by the great Patricia Neal) and later, his fall from fame’s grace are so compelling that for me, nearly all of Griffith’s later TV work pales in comparison.
If you’ve never seen this great film before and only know Andy as that soft-spoken Mayberry sheriff or that down-home Georgia weekly legal case winning genius, absolutely check it out and prepare to be mesmerized. You should also be prepared to make some direct comparisons to today’s cable news craziness and certain egomaniac personalities that have risen and fallen over the years. Kazan also uses some striking imagery in a brilliant montage that blends advertising slogans, a catchy jingle animation and Rhodes’ wild laugh to portray the character’s rise in the ratings as his down-home witticisms catch on across the country. As Rhodes’ ego and lust for power, women and money overtake whatever humanity he has left, it’s up to Neal and Walter Matthau (playing one of the show’s writers) to figure out a way to stop him from fooling more than the general public.
The film pops up on TCM quite a few times a year and I believe the cable channel will be showing it along with other Andy Griffith films as part of a tribute to the man in a week or so. If you get TCM on your cable box, absolutely make the time to see this one. If you don’t get TCM, absolutely rent it and prepare to be surprised at a stellar performance from a man more known for entirely different types of more likable country characters. Even better, watch it with another great film about media gone mad, 1976’s spectacular Network and you’ll see how both films do a rather unsettling job at predicting the current state of mass media and its insane ratings-happy ways.
As for my other favorite Griffith work? Well, a bunch of episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, of course… but I really wish SOMEONE would get all the episodes of the obscure 1979 ABC TV sci-fi series Salvage 1 onto a Blu-Ray disc, as it was a pretty cool concept and I was hooked in from the pilot episode. Oh well, one thing at a time for the nostalgic guy, I guess…