Friday, August 3, 2012

131. A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957)

Seeing Elia Kazan's hard-hitting film of Budd Schulberg's cautionary drama about the responsibility and nature of celebrity once again, in the wake of Andy Griffith's death last month, I found myself thinking two things.

First of all, it made me think about Patricia Neal and how all of her great roles seem to cast her as a strong, independent, self-made woman who meets her match and suddenly curls up in the shadow of a towering, more imposing male personality: THE FOUNTAINHEAD, DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, HUD. And then there is Griffith himself, who wisely turned from this almost unbearably hateful, taunting and angry performance to a career in neutered homespun comedy, as if the anger that was his muse was too blinding to allow for a more balanced career. Has any other debut performance burned, and I do mean burned, so brightly or shown us so much of an actor's potential?

It's true what they say about this film, that it's a prophecy of NETWORK and what has actually become of television in the decades since, and it was probably true even then, but it was made at a time when it still seemed within our reach to exercise our moral prerogative, and to expose the monsters we breed by pooling our popular vote, whether it's in a booth in a church basement or via a Nielsen rating. Why this movie doesn't occur to me when I'm selecting titles for a Top Ten, I don't understand; I always reach to another hemisphere of achievement, perhaps an idealized one, but this one remains powerful and unbreakably true. When kids reach a certain age, they need to hear John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" and they need to see this movie, which furthermore should be shown on TCM every election year in November.

Viewed via Turner Classic Movies.


  1. I am in total agreement with you on all points about this prescient film and the late Andy Griffith's TOWERING performance in it...Danny Peary's book ALTERNATE OSCARS gave him the award he should've won and wasn't even nominated for...Similar I believe to Tony Curtis' the following year in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS which was likewise ignored at Oscar time..

  2. SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and A FACE IN THE CROWD were both 1957 releases, and I agree that both deserved nominations. In fact, I'd have had a hard time choosing which one should win.

    A friend of mine saw FACE for the first time recently, after Griffith's death, and was blown away, having known him only from his kinder, gentler roles. I'm looking forward to a re-watch of Howard Zieff's HEARTS OF THE WEST, in which Griffith has a fine supporting role.

  3. A FACE IN THE CROWD is certainly a great film...but as for your comment that TCM should show this film every election day, it seems that TCM shows FACE just about every week, period.

  4. The film functions NOW not only as a very entertaining film, containing powerhouse performances (and a LIFETIME one for ANDY GRIFFITH), great direction and script...But a virtual Blueprint for the De-evolution of our media manipulation of politics today. All the SAME arguments from the right and the left are perfectly crystallized and still relevant today. That's really very sad...And the problem has only worsened since we have a cheap suit robot who lies through his teeth on the Republican side that is actually going to make a close race of this election. Please pardon my getting on the soap box with at least one foot. I LOVE this film!