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A Face in the Crowd

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A Face in the Crowd (1957) starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick, directed by Elia Kazan
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A Face in the Crowd (1957) starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick, directed by Elia Kazan

Synopsis of A Face in the Crowd

In A Face in the Crowd, an Arkansas drifter is discovered by the producer of a small radio station. He’s a philosophical country/western singer Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes. He’s “discovered” in the local jail by television talent coordinator Marcia Jeffries. His folksy style make him an overnight media sensation. He ultimately rises to great fame and influence on national television. But after becoming consumed by his power …. Will he ever be exposed as the fraud he’s become?


Lonesome Rhodes & Marcia waving goodbye to the crowd in "A Face in the Crowd"

For those people who think that the Nazis couldn’t come to power in America … They need to watch A Face in the Crowd. It’s a quiet, calm, depiction of exactly how a Joseph Goebbels-style propagandist could come to power in the U.S.A. It’s chilling, and extremely well done. Andy Griffith’s finest “straight” performance, as a “good old boy”. Who, once he gets a small taste of power and influence, wants more. And he doesn’t care who suffers for him to get it.

It’s not an uplifting or cheerful movie. But it’s a great movie. I recommend everyone watch it, at least once. And, I rate it a rare 5 stars. I frankly can’t see how it could be improved.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Actor on Rhodes’ show: [Speaking about Senator Fuller] You really sell that stiff as a man among men?
Lonesome Rhodes: [Not realizing that he’s still broadcasting] Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got ’em like this… You know what the public’s like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.

Cast of characters

I'm a force! Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd"
  • Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Show) … Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes. The good old boy, that Marcia discovers singing in a jail. First, she gives him a shot on a local radio show. And soon he becomes a regional, then national, sensation. Then television. Then, a king-maker. A sad figure, a broken boy in a man’s body. But very dangerous.
  • Patricia Neal (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Fountainhead) … Marcia Jeffries. The radio producer who discovers Lonesome. First she sets him on the path to stardom. Then, she walks beside him all the way. And then he breaks her heart, not even realizing she’s fallen in love with him. Towards the end, she takes a chance to stop the monster she’s created.
  • Walter Matthau (Cactus Flower, The Odd Couple) … Mel Miller. Lonesome’s publicity man …. Who doesn’t like him. But does care for Marica. After he quits, he’s writing a tell-all book.
  • Marshall NeilanSenator Worthington Fuller. The worst kind of politician. And Lonesome thinks he can push him into the presidency. And become the power behind the throne. Unless someone stops him …

Secondary characters

Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) and his new wife Betty Lou (Lee Remick) in "A Face in the Crowd"
  • Lee Remick (Anatomy of a Murder) … Betty Lou Fleckum. The pretty young cheerleader that Lonesome picks for his first wife. That Marcia knows about …
  • Anthony Franciosa (Fathom) … Joey DePalma. “Illegal? Honey, nothing’s illegal if they don’t catch you!” And later, Lonesome finds him in bed with Betty Lou. Ending Joey’s & Betty Lou’s careers.
  • Howard Smith (No Time for Sergeants) … J.B. Jeffries
  • Kay Medford (Funny Girl, Swing Shift Maisie) … First Mrs. Rhodes. She comes out of nowhere, once Lonesome has hit the big time. Blackmailing with the threat of bigamy. But she also opens Marcia’s eyes to Lonesome’s real history, and character. “Larry… he thinks he has to take a bite out of every broad he comes across. Then he calls them a tramp, drops them, and there’s all sort of psycho something-or-other, you know. I caught him red-handed with my best girlfriend. He broke my jaw.”

Editorial review of A Face in the Crowd courtesy of

More timely now, perhaps, than when it was first released in 1957, Elia Kazan’s overheated political melodrama explores the dangerous manipulative power of pop culture. It exposes the underside of Capra-corn populism, as exemplified in the optimistic fable of grassroots punditry Meet John Doe. In Kazan’s account, scripted by Budd Schulberg, the common-man pontificator (Andy Griffith) is no Gary Cooper-style aw-shucks paragon. Promoted to national fame as a folksy TV idol by radio producer Patricia Neal, Griffith’s Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes turns out to be a megalomaniacal rat bastard.

The film turns apocalyptic as Rhodes exploits his power to sway the masses, helping to elect a reactionary presidential candidate. The parodies of television commercials and opinion polling were cutting edge in their day (Face in the Crowd was the Network of the Eisenhower era), and there are some startling, near-documentary sequences shot on location in Arkansas. An extraordinary supporting cast (led by Walter Matthau and Lee Remick) helps keep the energy level high, even when the satire turns shrill and unpersuasive in the final reel.

There’s an interesting parallel in Tim Robbins’s snide pseudodocumentary Bob Roberts: both these pictures have almost as much contempt for the lemmings in the audience as for the manipulative monsters who herd them over the cliff. –David Chute

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