A Face In the Crowd (1957)
Reviewed on 2016 February 21
I’ve liked many, many movies enough to buy the DVD and a few enough to see more than once in the theater. This is one of the few that made me want to see it right away the next day. Yes, I thought it was that good.
Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) works for her uncle’s Arkansas radio station, interviewing colorful everyday characters for her feature “A Face in the Crowd.” She takes her ten-thousand watt smile and tape recorder to the local pokey one day, unwittingly picking the ultimate wild card: a superficially charming ne’er-do-well named Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith, looking incredibly and convincingly seedy here). Marcia christens him “Lonesome” Rhodes, asking him to talk or sing or anything into her mike. After a lot of aw-shucks nonsense, he lets loose with a stream of blue-eyed soul that makes her eyes light up. You can tell she’s thinking she’s got something special here.
What she doesn’t see is that soon he’s thinking the same thing, and not in a good way. Basically, Marcia unleashed FrankenHick. Lonesome parlays his blinding, fake charm and Machiavellian people skills into increasingly powerful and manipulative (and larger) chunks of the radio and TV market, breaking the 4th wall to bore his way into the hearts of his fans. Soon he’s eyeing politics.
It sounds funny, and for the first 45 minutes or so, it is. (Mr. Shukti and I were both laughing at the Vitjex Variety Hour or whatever you’d call that thing.) Then it’s just disturbing. Andy Griffith is phenomenal in this, playing a frighteningly smooth sociopath. After watching this I was left with the feeling that he was a scorpion that had been waiting patiently for the right sucker to lift him from under his rock. Patricia Neal is outstanding. Her face telegraphs her joy and growing horror at what she’s created. The script is outstanding and these two play it perfectly.
Four chocolate morsels.