A Face in the Crowd (film)

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A Face in the Crowd
Original poster for the filme A Face in the Crowd.jpg
Directed by Elia Kazan
Produced by Elia Kazan
Screenplay by Budd Schulberg
Based on "Your Arkansas Traveler"
by Budd Schulberg
Starring
Music by Tom Glazer
Cinematography
Edited by Gene Milford
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • May 28, 1957 (1957-05-28)
Running time
125 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Face in the Crowd is a 1957 American drama film starring Andy Griffith (in his film debut), Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau, directed by Elia Kazan.[1] The screenplay was written by Budd Schulberg, based on his short story "Your Arkansas Traveler", from the collection, Some Faces in the Crowd (1953).

The story centers on a drifter named Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes who is discovered by the producer (Neal) of a small-market radio program in rural northeast Arkansas. Rhodes ultimately rises to great fame and influence on national television. The character was inspired by Schulberg's acquaintance with Will Rogers, Jr. who admitted his famous father's "man of the people" image was a facade. The successes of Arthur Godfrey and Tennessee Ernie Ford were also acknowledged in the screenplay.

The film launched Griffith into stardom, but earned mixed reviews upon its original release. Later decades have seen favorable reappraisals of the movie, and in 2008 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Plot[edit]

In late 1950s America, a drunken drifter, Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith), is plucked out of a rural Arkansas jail by Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) to sing on a radio show at station KGRK. His raw voice, folksy humor and personal charm bring about a strong local following, and he lands a television show in Memphis, Tennessee under the stage name "Lonesome" Rhodes, given to him on a whim by Jeffries.

With the support of the show's staff writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) and Jeffries, the charismatic Rhodes ad libs his way to Memphis area popularity. When he pokes fun at his sponsor, a mattress company, they initially pull their ads—but when his adoring audience revolts, burning mattresses in the street, the sponsor discovers that Rhodes' irreverent pitches actually increased sales by 55%, and Rhodes returns to the air with a new awareness of his power of persuasion. He also begins an affair with Jeffries and proposes to her.

An ambitious office worker at the mattress company, Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa), puts together a deal for Rhodes to star in his own TV show in New York City. The sponsor is Vitajex, an energy supplement which Rhodes ingeniously pitches as a yellow pill which will make men energetic and sexually powerful. Rhodes' fame, influence and ego balloon. He is approached to help with the TV marketing of a Presidential hopeful, Senator Worthington Fuller. Rhodes re-brands the stuffy conservative Fuller with a folksy nickname and promotes him on television. In contrast to his friendly onscreen persona, Rhodes in private life has become an egomaniac who berates his staff. Jeffries' hopes to marry Rhodes are dashed, first when a woman (Kay Medford) turns up claiming to be Rhodes' legitimate wife. He then promises to get a divorce in Juarez, Mexico and returns married to a 17-year-old drum majorette (Lee Remick). When Rhodes says he will "give" 10% of his earnings to Jeffries, she furiously reminds Rhodes of her large role in his success, and demands to be made an equal partner on paper. Rhodes agrees.

Ultimately, Rhodes' ascent into fame and arrogance begins to turn on him. DePalma has an affair with Rhodes' young wife; Rhodes dumps her, but cannot get out of his business arrangement with DePalma, who threatens to reveal Rhodes' own secrets. Seeking solace, Rhodes pays a night visit to Jeffries' apartment. He proposes a political group called "FIGHTERS FOR FULLER". She hides her feelings of repulsion from him, but gets away from his presence as quickly as she can, in the pouring rain, and catching a taxi. She later visits the set of his television show, and activates a live microphone over the ending credits that, unbeknownst to Rhodes, broadcasts him mocking Fuller and going on a vitriolic rant about the stupidity of his TV audience, calling them "idiots", "guinea pigs", and "trained seals". Unaware that his words have gone out over the airwaves eliciting many angry calls to local television stations and the network, Rhodes departs the television studio in a jovial mood and prophetically tells the elevator operator that he is going "all the way down". As the elevator numbers go down to 0, his popularity is plummeting as well. DePalma is already meeting with a young entertainer who could become Rhodes' replacement.

Rhodes arrives at his penthouse, where he was scheduled to address the nation's business and political elite at a dinner party, but none of his guests show up, leaving Rhodes alone in an empty room with the African American butlers and servers, who don't respond to his demands on being loved, and are therefore all dismissed. Rhodes calls the studio and Jeffries, with Miller holding the phone, listens to him rant as he threatens to jump to his death from the penthouse. Jeffries, who has been silent, grabs the phone and screams at Rhodes to jump, and to get out of her, and everybody's, life.

Miller angrily dares Jeffries to face Rhodes and tell him the whole truth. They go to Rhodes' penthouse and find Rhodes drunk and disconnected from reality. He shouts folksy platitudes and sings at the top of his lungs while his longtime flunky Beanie (Rod Brasfield) works an applause machine—Rhodes' own invention—to replace the cheers, applause, and laughter of the audience that has abandoned him. When he vows revenge on the TV studio's engineer, Jeffries admits it was she who betrayed him. She demands he never call her again, and Miller tells Rhodes that life as he knew it is over, and delivers to Rhodes his career coda: Rhodes is not really destroyed at all. Both the public's and the network's need for Rhodes, will, "after a reasonable cooling off period" of remorse and contrition, he predicts, return Rhodes to the public eye, but never to his previous height of power and success. Rhodes ends up screaming from the window of his penthouse for Marcia Jeffries to come back as she leaves in a taxi with Miller, who assures her that Rhodes won't kill himself, as the film ends, a neon light flashes a coca cola sign off and on, indicating that life goes on, while Lonesome Rhodes screams his head off.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Most of the film's interiors were shot in New York at the Biograph Studios in the Bronx.[2] This was preceded by location shooting in Memphis and in Piggott, Arkansas, where Rhodes meets Betty Lou.

Contemporary newspapers reported an early 1956 trip by Kazan to Sarasota, Florida to confer with Schulberg.[3] Late in April, columnist Walter Winchell noted that Andy Griffith would depart the cast of his Broadway show No Time for Sergeants at the end of July, vacation for a month, and then begin shooting with Kazan. Kazan and Schulberg spent much of July and August 1956 in Memphis and in Arkansas,[4] and Patricia Neal's involvement would be announced by early August. Both Griffith and Lee Remick made their film debuts in Face.[1]

The most involved location shoot was in Piggott, Arkansas (the fair and baton-twirling competition scenes). Five thousand extras were sought, to be fed and paid $1 hourly for a mid-August day's work. Sixty baton twirlers were rounded up from NE Arkansas and SE Missouri, and musicians from six different high school bands were assembled.[5] Remick reported spending two weeks in Piggott living with teen twirler Amanda Robinson and her family, working on her twirling and local accent. Some of her baton twirling scenes used a double.[6] At the Piggott location shoot some 380 dogs were assembled from Missouri and Arkansas[7] for the scene following Rhodes' first mass-action call on his audience: to take their dogs to the home of a local sheriff who was running for higher office – Rhodes opining that people should first find out if a candidate is worthy of the office of "dog catcher".

Shooting in New York included 61 sets at Biograph Studios as well as some exteriors. The scene of the network headquarters switchboard was NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Anthony Franciosa, eager to work with Kazan, had turned down a more lucrative offer to appear in MGM's The Vintage.[8] Writer Schulberg remained involved throughout: "I went on a trip in 1955 to scout a location in Arkansas, and I've been on the set every day since shooting started in August [1956]."[9]

In stage performance, Griffith noted, he would work gradually up to his most intense moments, but needed to conjure that up spontaneously when shooting such scenes for Kazan. In some instances, he asked to have a few discarded chairs available to destroy, in order to work up his rage before filming.[10]

Big Jeff Bess, who portrayed the Sheriff under his own name, was a country singer and bandleader in Nashville who led Big Jeff and his Radio Playboys. At one time he was married to Tootsie Bess, owner of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.

Critical reception[edit]

Upon its original release, A Face in the Crowd earned mixed reviews, one of them from Bosley Crowther of The New York Times. Though he applauded Griffith's performance ("Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor ..."[11]), at the same time, he felt that the character overpowered the rest of the cast and the story. "As a consequence, the dominance of the hero and his monstrous momentum ... eventually become a bit monotonous when they are not truly opposed."[11] Crowther found Rhodes "highly entertaining and well worth pondering when he is on the rise", but considered the ending "inane".[11]

One critic who had only praise for the movie was François Truffaut; in his review in Cahiers du Cinéma, he called the film "a great and beautiful work whose importance transcends the dimensions of a cinema review".[12]

Over the decades, critical opinion of the film has warmed considerably. A Face in the Crowd has a 92% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Georges Sadoul (1972). Dictionary of Films. Translated, edited, and updated by Peter Morris. University of California Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-520-02152-5. 
  2. ^ Scott McGee; Jeff Stafford. "A Face in the Crowd (1957)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 8, 2015. 
  3. ^ Leonard Lyons, "The Lyons Den" (syndicated column), Long Beach, CA: Independent, April 12, 1956.
  4. ^ "Arkansas Movie Sets Production for Near Future", Kingsport, TN: Kingsport Times, July 9, 1956.
  5. ^ "Want to be in Movies? Extras Needed in Piggott", Blytheville, AR: Blytheville Courier News, August 8, 1956.
  6. ^ Erskine Johnson, "Hollywood", Ardmore, OK: Daily Ardmoreite, April 21, 1957.
  7. ^ "Dogs in Demand", Aiken, SC: Aiken Standard and Review, August 20, 1956.
  8. ^ Bob Thomas, "Hard Knocks and Actors Studio", Long Beach, CA: Press Telegram, December 27, 1956.
  9. ^ Rob Burton (AP), "Novelist Stays for 'Face' Film", Amarillo Globe-Times, December 31, 1956.
  10. ^ Hal Boyle, "He Fights Furniture Before Acting as If in a Rage", Lumberton, NC: The Robesonian, November 16, 1956.
  11. ^ a b c Bosley Crowther (May 29, 1957). "A Face in the Crowd (1957)". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ Francois Truffaut (2009). The Films In My Life. Da Capo Press. pp. 113–115. ISBN 0-7867-4972-5. 
  13. ^ "A Face in the Crowd (1957)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 22, 2018. 

External links[edit]