Anchor Staff Writer
Andy Griffith delivers an explosive performance as the handsome, broad grinning blues singer Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes in this Elia Kazan gem, “A Face in the Crowd” (1957). Before adopting the Lonesome persona, Larry found himself a resident of a small town in Arkansas and a frequent guest at the county jailhouse. Never did he imagine his life amounting to more than a bottle of liquor, nor did he mind it. However, when perky media host Marcia Jefferies (Patricia Neal) takes notice of his musical abilities and raw voice, she decides to share the crooner’s charisma and charm with television audiences all around America. This turned the jailbird into a pop culture icon. Little did she know she’s managing a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The story of Larry Rhodes is fictional but brings light to a very real message about evils that American families allow to enter their living rooms. Evils that enter with the click of a button and a change of the channel. Audiences tend to feel attached to the charisma of on-screen personalities, without associating them as performers doing acts. The personality is what resonates with viewers, not the person themselves.
What makes “A Face in the Crowd” so prominent is that it’s not just a simple rise and fall story of a musician’s television career. In fact, it’s much more complex than that. Although Rhodes started out as a poor nobody, gaining wealth by chance, these factors never influenced his attitude. Fame and wealth are not what created the greedy woman hungry monster who despised every fan that ever loved him. Rhodes always embodied this monster, even in poverty. The film cleverly spaces out clues of this until culminating it all at the peak of his fame. The personality that Andy Griffith portrays actually remains static throughout the film. It is genius how his true colors are only unraveled little by little to the viewer. That compelling, wide, toothy cowboy smile draws you in and only then are you made aware of his manipulative capabilities. Nobody knows this better than Marcia Jefferies.
Marcia boosts Rhodes into fame with her local radio program, and sticks with him in pain and agony through his career. She also starts to acquire feelings for Larry, which results in her mental downfall. Being the one most exploited by the musician, Marcia has quite a large character arc. She begins as an independent successful radio show host but ends mentally exhausted and damaged. Every decision that Lonesome made had a destructive effect on her.
Acting, cinematography and technical aspects all around are stunning in this film. Power hungry Griffith is what first attracted me to this film, and it exceeded my expectations. Mayberry, North Carolina could not even contain the magnitude of his personality. Patricia Neal was also a treat for she nailed the role of Marcia Jefferies. She put incredible depth and emotion into her character, a woman trapped and distressed while slowly being stripped of her dreams.
Kazan’s film depicts a dark reality applicable to several celebrity personalities. Rhodes’ character compels audiences at first with his lovable, inexperienced and uncensored nature, as he’s not afraid to call attention to the hypocrisies involved in television production. It’s tragic that he also exemplifies the qualities of a hypocrite. Nonetheless, he gets his comeuppance at the end. The conclusion is beautifully written and executed as Rhodes’ inner rage comes to a head. A rich discourse ensues between him, Marcia, and the character Mel, played by Walter Matthau. Each character is treated with great attention whether they are major or minor, which is deserving of respect. The rating was a tossup between a 4.5 and a 4. If some small elements were better flushed out and put to more use would have gotten the higher rating.