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.
It was not
hard for me to reconcile
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…uhm….‘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.
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
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
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 Neal‘s character, but sees through Lonesome. He‘s kind of sweet on her. He‘ll 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 he’ll 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 Marcia’s 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 )