Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A FACE IN THE CROWD (Elia Kazan, 1957, USA)

Marcia Jeffries must destroy her greatest creation as it consumes the airwaves, a false American Idol whose ignorance leads her down a lonesome road towards a dead end. The beautiful and endearing Patricia Neal is Marcia, a small town radio host who brings the salt-of-the-earth to her weekly program, giving voice to her mute audience. 

One day Marcia discovers a charismatic drunk who spouts inane wisdom and catchy jingles, a con-man whose dogged determination leads them both into the “Big Time”. As his fame grows so does his need for attention, an addiction to applause and aggrandizement: Larry “Lonesome” Rhoades sits atop the world surrounded by the trappings of success. His private megalomania is a stark contrast to his public image of a wise straight-talking average fellow, and he allows himself to be used as long as there is a profit for him: he trades his integrity (what little he had) for Power. “Lonesome” betrays those closest to him, expecting that he will always be forgiven because he’s popular, top of the ratings, and even Presidential candidates kowtow to his advice. 

Andy Griffith’s exceptional performance as the unsophisticated Rhoades plays against type: he is unruly and asinine, full of bitter charm, but still imbues the character with enough humanity to allow the viewer to sympathize with his downfall. Director Elia Kazan’s film is a prescient indictment of childish audiences, who suckle from the glass teat for nourishment and empower ignoble personalities, hypnotized by their good looks or potent wit…without really listening or thinking for themselves. Today, we could replace "Lonesome" Rhoades with Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh whose transparent opinions are privileged by a cult of personality. 

Marcia finally reveals the harsh truth with a flick of a switch: a personal sacrifice because she can see the seed of kindness in “Lonesome” that was once pure, but is now tainted and will only grow into a poisonous tree. Atop his penthouse, he shouts into the cold rainy night, his powerful voice demanding her return and affection…but she tearfully glides away towards a brighter future. 

Final Grade: (B+)