Tonight: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau and Lee Remick in the Elia Kazan production of Budd Schulberg’s A Face in the Crowd.
After their successful collaboration with On The Waterfront director Elia Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg teamed up once again for another scathing social commentary.
This one focused on how the then relatively new (1950s) TV medium had an unprecedented ability to manufacture personalities, influence opinion and change the world.
But at what cost?
Almost every reference to this film makes an analogy between such media-created megalomania and “Frankenstein.”
It is an early indictment of the manipulative nature of the medium and its ability to create a monster.
The film warns an overly complacent 1950s audience to beware! That this could really happen!
And, of course, it did!
This is Andy Griffith’s unforgettable film debut.
He first came to prominence in the Broadway hit, No Time for Sergeants (1955), which he later reprised in a film version.
His lovable character was the obvious inspiration for TV’s “Gomer Pyle,” played by Jim Nabors.
And Andy, himself, is best remembered today as the folksy star of several popular TV comedy shows.
But as Lonesome Rhodes, in A Face in the Crowd, Griffith portrays a very different, much darker character.
One that he was reluctant to talk about later in his career.
Andy Griffith had originally planned to be a preacher and he launched his show business career with a preacher act on the Rotary circuit.
If TV evangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart had come along a little earlier, Andy could have used them as a source of inspiration for his portrayal.
Tonight’s film is fiction, but the similar rise and fall of Bakker and Swaggart was real enough.
A Face in the Crowd was based on a short story by Budd Schulberg titled The Arkansas Traveler.
The film is also similar in theme to The Great Man—an expose of a beloved TV personality who turns out to be a heel, made the previous year by Jose Ferrer.
The film was a thinly disguised fictional tale based on the career of TV personality Arthur Godfrey.
The familiar faces in tonight’s film—Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa and Walter Matthau—were relative unknowns when the picture was made.
Faces familiar to the audience in the 1950s, but largely forgotten today—Betty Furness, Burl Ives, John Cameron Swayze, Earl Wilson, Sam Levinson and Bennett Cerf—put in brief appearances here.
Only Mike Wallace is still around, but now retired.
This is also Lee Remick’s screen debut.
The “General” in tonight’s film was based on Colonel Tom Parker and Louisiana Senator Dudley LeBlanc—and the backwoods tonic hawked by Lonesome Rhodes is a fictional version of Hadacol.
Colonel Parker earned a bundle promoting Senator LeBlanc’s backwoods tonic before he began managing a country singer named Elvis.
A Face in the Crowd was released in two theaters on May 28, 1957 by Warner Bros. Variety called it “A devastating commentary on hero worship and success cults in America.”
In a year in which audiences lined up to see The Ten Commandments, Around the World in 80 Days, Giant and The Bridge on the River Kwai, they did not line up to see a film that attacked their beloved TV.
The production cost $1,750,000.
With a worldwide gross of $1,323,000, the picture lost $840,000.
There were also no Oscar nominations. None at all!
Two decades later, Hollywood would revisit the same terrain in tomorrow night’s film with Paddy Chayefsky’s Network.
By then, we really were “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” Or maybe not!
So now, from 1957—the classicA Face in the Crowd.