Classic Movie Review: A Face In the Crowd (1957)

Posted: July 9, 2012 in Drama
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Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) meets Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) in an Arkansas jail, and gives him the nickname “Lonesome.”  Marcia is looking for someone to fill time on her show “A Face In The Crowd,” and she gets much more than that.  Lonesome is a fierce blues singer with an ability to charm the ladies and speak to those without two nickels to rub together.  Lonesome has to be talked into hosting a tv show by Marcia, who becomes a writer on the show along with Mel Miller (Walter Mattau)  The “Lonesome” Rhodes show becomes wildly popular, and Lonesome gets his first sponsor Luffler Mattresses.  Mattress sales take off and Lonesome uses some of the money to pay for a house for a poor Arkansas woman, but Mr. Luffler (Charles Irving) doesn’t like how Lonesome does the commercial, so Luffler fires him.  After a near riot ensues, Luffler reinstates Lonesome as a spokesman.  Lonesome already has plans to move on.  His New York agent, Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa) gets Lonesome another sponsor, Vitajex, a useless pill that Lonesome markets as a high energy vitamin.  Sales of Vitajex hit the stratosphere, and Lonesome is at the peak of his popularity.  Marcia is falling in love with Lonesome, but the mercurial Rhodes marries a young twirler from Arkansas named Betty Lou Fleckum (Lee Remick) in Mexico.  Lonesome has no time to tend to Marcia’s broken heart, his career is hitting a higher plateau.  The owner of Vitajex, General Haynesworth (Percy Waram) wants Lonesome to use his popularity to influence the political discourse.  Haynesworth wants Lonesome to meet Senator Worthington Fuller (Marshall Neilan) a politician who is about as popular as an Edsel.  Hanesworth is hoping that Rhodes folksy charm will catapult the stiff Senator Fuller into the White House.  Lonesome is working on a show that combines the views of the common man with politics, called Cracker Barrel.  Does the show succeed?  Who can stop the increasingly ego-driven Rhodes from becoming a political kingmaker?

This is an incredible movie.  The true test of a classic movie is, does it stand the test of time?  This movie undoubtedly does.  It is a deceptive movie, because it plays on Southern stereotypes and stands them on their heads.  No one expects a Southern transient to bamboozle well-educated sophisticates like Marcia Jeffries and Mel Miller, but Lonesome Rhodes is no ordinary Southern hobo, behind that drawl ans that charm, is the mind of a chess player, he’s thinking three moves  ahead of everyone else, and the only thing that can stop Lonesome Rhodes is his own ego.  It is absolutely fascinating to see the combination of calculating intelligence, and a personal life that is a train wreck, and finding out which wins out. This movie stands the test of time because there are political commentators today who use the guise of “plain talk” or “common sense” to advance a corporate agenda.  The performances are electrifying.  Griffith, who was known for playing Sheriff Andy Taylor, another stereotype defying character, plays Lonesome Rhodes with wit, guile, and enough charm to sweet talk the birds off the trees.  But Griffith never lets the viewer forget that he is driven, driven to make everyone love him, on his terms alone.  Patricia Neal, has ice water in her veins, and a brain in her head, but she is not immune from the charms of Lonesome either.  Neal plays the dichotomy of cool, detached education and vulnerable, lonely, woman perfectly.  Hers is an amazing performances as well.  Walter Matthau is also very good in a small role. This is a fantastic movie, do not miss it.  Griffith passed away recently, and that reminded me of how good this movie was, and so I saw it again.  You should see it too, whether for the first time or multiple times, you’ll be glad you did.
A Face In The Crowd.  The Rhodes less traveled.
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