Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Face in the Crowd (1957)

~ Lonesome Rhodes

The collection of truly amazing classic films, that I have yet to see, is an ever-shrinking pool. And it just got smaller when I watched Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan's film A Face in the Crowd (1957). I was captivated both by the film's over-arching message of the corruptiveness of power as well as its fantastic storytelling. This film is so well done that I feel it merits, not one but two entries, with this being the first.

The story is about Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a simple Arkansas country boy, whose charm catapults him from jail to radio to broadcast television. He becomes intoxicated by the power his growing audience gives him and this of course leads to his downfall. Its fascinating to see how dangerous it can be and how vulnerable we are when power is put into the wrong hands.

The film itself is exquisitely made. The pacing shifts as the story moves along. My favorite example of this is the Vitajex scene which starts slowly with the formation of the advertising plan and escalates when Lonesome Rhodes takes over. The following scenes are manic flashes of Rhodes' numerous Vitajex commercials. The flashes become faster and faster as the ratings of Rhodes' show rises as well as the sales of Vitajex.

Its also interesting how the two main characters are filmed. Andy Griffith ,as Lonesome Rhodes, is practically bursting out of the screen. Whereas Patricia Neal, as Marcia, is swathed in light in those early scenes when things are still innocent and pure and towards the end when things start to go downhill, she is drowned in shadows, with the exception of her face, which is framed in various ways by clever lighting.

This film encapsulates the film-debuts of Andy Griffith and Lee Remick and the pinnacle Walter Matthau and Anthony Franciosa's early careers. Walter Matthau is particularly exceptional as Marcia's love interest who is the single voice of reason because he sees through the fogs of illusion. And Lee Remick! I had been actively watching for her and was excited to see her as the 17-year old baton-twirling, cheerleader who seduces Lonesome Rhodes.

There are so many reasons to watch this film. Watch it for its political message of the abuse of power. Watch it to see several legends get their film start. Watch it to see cameos by Rip Torn, Mike Wallace and Bennett Cerf (I haven't found him yet!).Watch it for Elia Kazan's excellent direction. But most of all, watch it for Budd Schulberg's amazing story.


  1. Hey Raquelle!
    Kevin here. I am glad you liked "A Face in the Crowd." I watched it again over the weekend. Talk about an underappreciated masterpiece! I really like your observations about the changes in lighting of the Marcia character. The picture you include with your posting says it all. By the way, would you consider "A Face in the Crowd" to be a film noir?

  2. Hey Kevin! Thanks for stopping by. I didn't consider A Face in the Crowd to be a film noir until you mentioned it. Hmmm. I could see it. Especially some of the stark lighting towards the end, especially with Marcia. And how the main protagonist is ambiguous in that he's neither totally good or totally bad. It could be a film noir! What are your thoughts?


  3. Hi Raquelle,

    The reason why I ask if "A Face in the Crowd" is a film noir is because I recently found it in the Film Noir section at the Hollywood Express video stores. I don't think it is really a film noir, even with its noir identifiers (lighting, theme of corruption). It operated more as a media satire more than anything.

    I like your Best Elia Kazan Film poll. I picked "A Streetcar Named Desire", mainly because I have loved it since my early teens. "A Face in the Crowd" and "On the Waterfront" come very close, though.

  4. Well I find that in the media industry, categorization is less about accurately pinpointing a genre and more about increasing the flow of sales. Maybe Hollywood Express thought Face in the Crowd would move better if labeled as a Film Noir?

    Thanks for voting! Can you tell I'm preparing for your Elia Kazan lecture?

  5. That's a good point. I think I would be more likely to rent "A Face in the Crowd" if I saw it in the Film Noir section. It's a little less hidden there than it would be in the more-populated classics or drama section.

    I'm happy that you're planning to come to the Elia Kazan lecture in two weeks. His autobiography, at over 800 pages, is really quite a tome! I am a little overwhelmed in figuring out which films and periods of his life are the most important for me to cover in the hour I have. Any suggestions?

  6. I would like to hear about the films he made in the '50s. Mostly because those are the ones I've seen and enjoyed. It will also be interesting to hear about his resistance to comply with the HUAC. Since I love learning about film censorship and all that.

    Wow 800 pages! You must know everything there is to know about the man by now!

  7. You would probably really like Elia Kazan's autobiography. He had a very interesting life and he writes very candidly about himself and a lot of well-known people throughout his career. The book is a very absorbing read. I will have it with me next week.

    I'm looking forward to seeing you, and hope you're having a Happy Thanksgiving!


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