Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Face in the Crowd

217a A Face In The Crowd

We love movies about our own professions – or hate them. Here’s one of them that practically no one around today ever heard of. This is the 50th anniversary year of “A Face In The Crowd,” based on Budd Schulberg’s short story, “Your Arkansas Traveler,” written sometime after the mid 1940s.

The movie’s about a drunken rural ne’er do well, Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) who becomes an overnight radio and then television star, based on his charm and good looks, and his refusal to be serious about the products and services of his sponsors.

Anyone who’s ever been on the air wanted to do some of the things the fictional Rhodes did. But Lonesome was a rat and eventually, the people find him out and refuse to watch his program.

Pretty simple story. Maybe a bit of an exaggerated take on a big broadcasting star of the era, Arthur Godfrey, who’s generally credited with bringing the common touch to an industry that was more like opera in its presentation, than it was like a conversation with the guy next door.

When this came out in 1957 (and it was in black and white,) most of us hadn’t heard of some of its feature players. Besides Griffith, there was Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau , Tony Franciosa and Lee Remick. And there were cameos by John Cameron Swayze, Earl Wilson, Walter Winchell, Mike Wallace, Faye Emerson, Sam Levinson, Burl Ives, Rip Torn, and a bunch of other big names that only a guy like Elia Kazan could assemble, put on film and then not credit.

A real convergence of Broadway, Hollywood and newspapers, the kind you don’t find a lot of today. Especially the uncredited part.

We follow Lonesome through his meteoric rise and his meteoric fall. There could have been a sequel. There wasn’t. Today we’d be up to “Face In The Crowd Part X.”

But this is more than a funny little movie filled with future big names. It was a cautionary tale for people in the entertainment industry. And, of course, no one seems to have been cautioned.

So we get the big stars who are just waiting to take a fall. We don’t know who they are yet. But eventually, we probably will.

There are people running around who can accurately quote hours of dialogue from “Casablanca” or “Gone With the Wind.” There aren’t people who can quote 125 minutes of dialogue from “Face.”

Probably a good thing. People who can repeat movie scripts in common conversation are terrible bores. But this movie should be shown to everyone contemplating a career in film, theater, broadcasting, blogging, newspaper writing, and politics. If you’re a piece of piegon dropping, eventually the public which you revere on stage and behind the microphone and hold in contempt the rest of the time will find you out.

In the meantime, since the film is marking an important anniversary, it’s likely to be shown a few more times this year. And it would be a good idea to see it.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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