One of my favorite films is “A FACE IN THE CROWD.” Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau were wonderful. In fact, I enjoyed every one’s characterizations and Elia Kazan’s message of cynicism was spot on. Power brokers…false prophets… charlatans…snake oil salesmen and demagogues. Oh my. This film is more relevant today than ever before, especially as we head two days from electing a new President.

face-crowd-3a-face-in-crowd-griffithIt was not
hard for me to reconcile
the warm
folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry persona, with the megalomaniac he becomes in “A Face in the Crowd.” Maybe his Lonesome Rhodes was Sheriff Taylor on steroids. Griffith gives a strong performance in this his first film. His lusty heat obliterates all thoughts of
 Opie and Aunt Bee and Barney and Goober/Gomer Pyle, for me. If that big big laugh of his isn’t indicative of a large…a-face-in-crowd-andy-griffithuhm….‘appetite’, then I don’t know my megalomaniacs. Andy Griffith Rhodes wallows in his power; he revels and rolls in it like a pig in  **it. He is besotted with it. But when he gets in the least little trouble he calls for his Marcia again…suckling her for comfort and reassurance.

face-crowd-1 a-face-in-crowd-neal

But Lonesome Rhodes was also a drug for Marcia! Marcia! Marcia! as well. Behind every great man is a great woman, right? Here, the woman “makes” the man…in more ways than one. Patricia Neal is so good as career girl Marcia Jeffries, who tries to further her  

a-face-in-crowd-nealmatthau-ii  a-face-in-crowd-nealmatthau

career when she finds Lonesome Rhodes in a local hoosegow and has the idea to make him a tv personality. She discovers this diamond in the rough…polishes him and becomes drunk for him. She struggles the further things go along. When success and more powerful men come a-callin’ on Lonesome she is iced out, as women sometimes are. After all her help in creating him ( and sleeping with him ), she finds he’s married a pretty little vacuous majorette named Betty Lou played by pretty as a summer’s day Lee Remick in her first

a-face-in-crowd-remick a-face-in-crowd-remick-ii

movie. It’s a blow to Marcia as though she is the “wife” who has helped her husband through medical school…only to be cast aside like a used Ace bandage, while he takes up with a younger, prettier nurse. Marcia gets him this far and now Lonesome Rhodes is feeling his oats and making decisions. What’s that line in “All About Eve” about the piano thinking its written the concerto? I’m a little torn about this. Why shouldn’t one be in control of their own image? Sure, why not. I do think Lonesome was two steps ahead of those who wished to co-opt him. But he begins to believe the hype and gets drunk with power. You cannot control a heat-seeking missile.


Walter Matthau is Mel Miller, who works with Patricia Neals character, but sees through Lonesome. Hes kind of sweet on her. Hell be her Rock of Gibraltar at the end, but for now he watches her indignities from the sidelines.

Alas and alack ( especially alas ) no one is really indispensable; everyone is  replaceable as we shall see. Lonesome’s elevator ride after his final broad cast was a great metaphor for Kazan to use for his descent. Why, there’s even a new Lonesome Rhodes just waiting in the wings at the ground floor. Not to worry. I’m sure Lonesome Rhodes 2.0 will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Might be human nature at its worst. A shout out to a good smarmy performance by Anthony Franciosa. As press agent hell tell anybody what they want to hear…put em over on the gullible American public and get his 10% for doing so.

I find the movie ends in two beats: ( Spoilers! )

  • Marcia faces her “addiction” to Lonesome with all the strength she can muster. And even with the help of colleague Mel Miller ( a  solid performance, by Walter Matthau ), she still finds it a little hard to leave Lonesome.
  • Secondly, Lonesome screams into the night like King Kong having a tantrum. This time, his call will go unanswered. I loved how Kazan ends the movie with his screams.




We end the movie with Marcias struggle. She walks away a changed woman: battered, bruised, but changed. She learns something about herself and people…while Lonesome remains the same. Rhodes screams into the night air of New York City, the city that never sleeps…the city that ( sometimes ) doesn’t care, the city that swallows his screams and blends it with the cacophony of noises in the night. Lonesome is alone with applause machines applauding his screams, applauding his slide. You know what they say:

“Whom the gods would destroy…they first make mad.”


(   H  O  M  E   )


4 thoughts on “A FACE IN THE CROWD ( 1957 )

  1. I don’t have to tell you what a timely film this is. You have a way with a phrase. I particularly like this one: “Lonesome is alone with applause machines, applauding his screams, applauding his slide”.


  2. Love this film and yes it is sadly and disturbingly prescient today. Although now I think some are being more willfully obtuse than when this was released and an illusion was more easily maintained.

    Andy Griffith is such perfect casting even though the film came before his self named show his folksy warmth always had just enough of an edge to it that it wasn’t hard to believe it could be a front. From what I’ve read Griffith while he could on occasion be thorny was more or less very much like his onscreen self but the basis for Lonesome Rhodes was an actual person-Arthur Godfrey. On the air Godfrey was an engaging, chummy presence beloved by the entire country but that masked a malacious megalomaniacal, grudge holding autocrat more or less despised by all who knew him. After he fired the popular singer Julius LaRosa on air out of spite the press and eventually the public turned on him.

    As great as Andy is my favorite performance comes from Patricia Neal. She’s really shows all the different sides there are to Marcia really making conflicts within herself that even she can’t fight apparent to the audience. It’s the performance that I think should have been the Oscar winning one that year in Actress and now it seems incredible that she she wasn’t even nominated, especially in a year when Lana Turner made it in for Peyton Place!! Don’t get me wrong I love Lana but the only two times she belonged in the running were The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Bad and the Beautiful, her nod for PP was merely due to the mega-success of the film.

    But the film’s quality doesn’t rest solely on those two performers, everyone is excellent. Even Lee Remick whose role is little more than window dressing manages to make an impact. Kazan manages to keep it compelling and watchable, not always the easiest trick with an unlikable protagonist.


    • I agree with your comments Joel ( and thanks for taking time out to comment. ) If I were running things, I’d have given Patricia Neal the Oscar for this film instead of “HUD.” Walter Matthau was good too. Good all around cast. Thanx again.


Please leave a comment ( No Anonymous Replies Accepted )

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.