Sunday, February 21, 2010
Day 329: A Face in the Crowd (1957) - Rank 5/5
While "The Giant Claw" was "terrorizing" folks on theater screens in 1957, other screens were offering up a different monster - Lonsesome Rhodes. Lonesome was not a giant bird from an antimatter universe, but a hopeless drunk who stumbles into the big time. The character of Lonesome is analogous to characters like Daniel Plainview - a sociopath with power that you find yourself strangely enjoying and, at times, rooting for. Played by Andy Griffith with iniquitous zeal, Lonesome Rhodes is a chimera of society's ugliest aspects.
Plucked from a drunk tank in a backwoods town by a local radio show hostess (Patricia Neal), Lonesome shares his homespun wisdom and a song with his sheepish drawl across the airwaves. Before he knows it, he has a sponsor, then two. His ascension into the nation's public eye enables him to dabble in everything from corporate bureaucracies to politics, and each new realm Lonesome stretches into enhances his greed and power hungry nature all the more. The story of a down-on-his-luck artist catching the break of a lifetime and making it big is a staple of Hollywood, and the corruption of the soul by power is typically the cliched angle the scripts take. But director Elia Kazan never tries to convince you that Lonesome is a good-tempered rube who falls into wrong - Lonesome is the same, self-centered rogue that spent every weekend in the drunk tank; however, he now has influence and wealth to heighten his ego and vices. How Andy Griffith failed to receive any award recognition for his powerhouse performance is beyond my ken (especially since this was his debut on film). My only hypothesis is that he was too new to Hollywood at the time. Had he shown his darker side after becoming a household name as Sheriff Taylor, he might have turned more heads, though it's also likely that at that stage, he would have never been considered for the role in the first place.
Watch the Trailer