Sure, A Face in the Crowd is a little on the overwrought side, but in all honesty, I’ll take Elia Kazan’s 1957 drama about the rise and fall of an increasingly psychotic “good ol’ boy” TV personality over the director’s more famous works. I’m not, in fact, sure that a film on this subject could possibly be anything but overwrought. Kazan cast a non-actor, a young fellow named Andy Griffith known for his comedy routines (especially “What It Was Was Football”), in the lead role of the megalomaniacal Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes. For folks who only think of Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, his role as Lonesome Rhodes will come as quite a shock. This is a raw, heated and sometimes truly terrifying performance—one that Griffith never topped (not that he was ever given the opportunity). The rest of the cast is nearly equally as impressive, especially Patricia Neal as the woman who helps turn Rhodes into a powerful celebrity, much to her subsequent regret.
The story follows the creation of a wildly popular TV figure out of a drunken lout of a hobo, fashioning him into the public’s image of themselves. The remarkable thing about A Face in the Crowd is the way in which this 50-year-old film only seems to become only more relevant with the passing of time. Each generation seems to have its share of rich and powerful cynics who present themselves as “just folks” in order to beguile “the people” into believing that there’s no difference between them, that they hold the same honest, simple values as their audience or their constituents etc. While we might like to think that we’re superior—certainly more savvy—than Rhodes’ audience, you don’t have to look very far to see his counterpart in personalities and politicians of today, so somebody’s still buying the carefully calculated myth.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke