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A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957)

A Face In The Crowd - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally remastered version of the 1957 classic, ‘A Face in the Crowd’. It was directed by Elia Kazan; it stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick, and Anthony Franciosa; and it's 126-minutes long. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-Ray edition comes with a documentary, a theatrical trailer, and face-to-face interviews with Ron Briley and Evan Dalton. Please enjoy.


A Face in the Crowd [The Criterion Collection]


THE STORY:
Now before I ask you a very important question, Marcia (Patricia Neal), I just want to say how grateful I am for everything you’ve done for me. After all, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have become the man that I am today.

Well, for a start, you got me a job hosting a morning show on your Dad’s radio station in Arkansas. Then when that did well, I was asked to go to Memphis, Tennessee, where I was hired to present a TV show written by our good friend, Mel Miller (Walter Matthau). And due to the success of that programme, I got hired once again, but this time for an even bigger show situated right here, in New York, New York, that’s being broadcast all across the nation.

So, in a roundabout way, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you’ve changed me, Marcia, you’ve changed me a lot; which is why I now want to ask you to be my wife. So, will you marry me? Will you marry Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith)? Or will you turn your back on me because I’m already married to another woman? Either way, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes bing, bang, bong, when politics enters the mix. As a blushing bride knows how to play ball - a politician loves hearing my southern drawl - a line of products get sold at a shopping mall - and at the end of the day, please remember, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.




THE REVIEW:
In no uncertain terms, I’d say ‘A Face in the Crowd’ was a really great film because it made me think about how the world around us is constantly being controlled by three key entities: politics, big business, and the mainstream media. Well, let’s face it, at face value these three 'areas of interest' seem like fairly strange bedfellows, but upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that they each feed off of each other in order to manipulate the general public. For a start, big business manipulates politicians and the media with cash incentives and lucrative deals. Then when that kicks in, the media manipulates the populous by presenting us with information that can occasionally influence our sphere of perception. And finally, politics manipulates the 'bureaucratic glue' that allegedly joins everything together, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad, and sometimes for the damn right ugly.

A Face In The Crowd - Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal
Although, when I say ugly, I’m not referring to this film as being an ugly film. Not visually, at least, as it’s very elegantly composed and rather nicely staged. Yet, from a narrative point of view, it does show us the uglier side of life, a side which implies that celebrities can be shaped, molded, and cajoled into doing what must be done for the sake of profit and loss. Or in other words, celebrities lie, big time, and are occasionally created for the use of promoting products, ideals, and certain ideologies, with the hope that their influence can alter the finances of big business and the goals of political parties.

Now, in regards to this film, it attempts to illustrate this point by telling us a fairly simple story featuring four distinct characters. Firstly, there’s the main star of the show, Lonesome Rhodes, as played by Andy Griffith, who comes across as a down to earth hayseed that gradually gets corrupted by the media and other external forces. Next up there’s Marcia, played by Patricia Neal, who acts as Lonesome’s guardian-angel who loves him, hates him, but eventually has to take him down when he goes too far. And finally, there are two diametrically opposed supporting-characters played by Walter Matthau and Anthony Franciosa, Mel Miller and Joey DePalma, who each guide Andy and Patricia down their respective roads in order to become the good, the bad, or the ugly, depending on their final objective. An objective, I hasten to add, which in many ways makes this film way ahead of its time and a truly forgotten cinematic classic.


A Face In The Crowd - Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau


A Face In The Crowd - Lee Remick
But, before I tell you what I mean by this, let us sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Warner Bros.’ first screened this production in Chicago, Illinois, on the exact same day most Americans celebrate Memorial Day. It was on the 28th of May, 1957. (2) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘A Chip in the Crowd’ in Romania, ‘A Form within the Crowd’ in Greece, and during post-production, it was given the working title, ‘The Arkansas Traveler’. (3) Following on from my previous point, and you might like to know that this film was based on a short story called ‘Your Arkansas Traveler’, which was written by Budd Schulberg in 1952. The character of Lonesome Rhodes, on the other hand, was based on several real-life personalities, including Arthur Godfrey, Huey Long, Will Rogers, and even Billy Graham. (4) The majority of this movie was shot inside Biograph Studios, The Bronx, New York City, as well as on location throughout The United States of America. This includes Memphis in Tennessee; The Iverson Ranch in Los Angeles, California; Paragould and Piggott in Arkansas; along with other locations situated in New York itself, such as NBC-TV Studios in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and 240 Central Park South. (5) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘Get the Bum Dressed - His 40 Million Women are Waiting!’. (6) This film marked the silver screen debut of many well known actors, such as Andy Griffith, who played Lonesome; Lee Remick, who played the sexy baton twirler; Lois Nettleton, who played an uncredited nurse; as well as Charles Nelson Reilly, who played a saxophonist that was cut out before the film was released. Marlon Brando was also offered the lead role but he quickly declined. (7) During pre-production, Lee Remick spent two weeks in Piggott, Arkansas, learning how to twirl her baton as well as the local accent, while Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg spent months learning about the advertising business and the American political system, doing so by attending numerous meetings held at a number of Madison Avenue ad agencies and Washington DC. (8) After this flick got drunk on moonshine, Andy Griffith starred in an episode of ‘The United States Steel Hour’; Patricia Neal starred in the TV series, ‘Suspicion’; and Walter Matthau starred in another TV series, ‘Goodyear Playhouse’.

Okay. So where was I? Oh yes. I remember now. I was about to say why I thought ‘A Face in the Crowd’ was way ahead of its time! Well, from a story standpoint, I thought this film was smart, very smart, because it managed to clearly define the methods used by the media in order to advertise products and agendas. But, what we have to keep in mind, is that it was made over 60 years ago -- I repeat, 60 years -- during a time when broadcasting was at its infancy and nowhere near today’s multi-platform digital environment. So, if you think about it, its basic premise had a lot of savvy in regards to being able to predict the rise of celebrity culture, the fall of the mainstream media, and the manipulation of political agendas, all through a simple story about a man who bit off more than he could chew.

A Face In The Crowd - Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal
Funnily enough, this last point brings me quite nicely onto something else I would also like to expand upon. Namely, how much I enjoyed watching the wonderful performances given by most of the cast. Andy Griffith, for instance, played the titular character as if he were a man possessed, because sometimes he was bold and devilishly manic, whereas at other times he was charming and devilishly sweet. Patricia Neal, on the other hand, gives a far more nuanced performance in comparison, doing so by emotionally anchoring the tone of this film at any given turn. After all, if she was angry, we were angry, and if she was sad, we were sad too! Almost as if her emotional temperament acted as an empathic-link between us the audience and the message this movie wanted to convey. Similarly, the same can also be said about Walter Matthau’s nuanced performance. Although, in his case, he was a suave intellectual that counteracted the fiendish machinations of the agent character, as played by Anthony Franciosa, who likewise was able to keep his own performance in check! Oh, and before I forget, I best mention the sexpot played by Lee Remick, Betty Lou Fleckum, who came across as jailbait personified by the way she looked, behaved, and moved whenever she swirled her... uhhh... batons, hint-hint!

So, overall, I would just like to say that this is one hell of a brilliant film and I would definitely recommend it to those people who enjoy message movies, political parables, or stories that make you think. Top class.

THE RATING: A

A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957) A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957) Reviewed by David Andrews on May 06, 2019 Rating: 5

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