"There is nothing as trustworthy as the ordinary mind - of the ordinary man"
Lonesome Rhodes gets discovered in a small town Arkansas jail, partly as a musical act, but his sudden success is driven by his high energy, grass roots personality. His mouth runs like a loose cannon, spontaneous and unpolished. Despite seeming so unfit for celebrity, he rises rapidly up the ranks of radio and television to national demagogue. Scenes of his rabid, adoring public seem to anticipate the arrival of the Beetles.
Andy Griffith is Rhodes in his breakout role. Though he would get typecast later as the sheriff of Mayberry, we get an idea of his real talent in this picture. It would have been easy to overdo the Lonesome Rhodes personality, but Griffith adds subtlety and nuance to the part - and I'm sure some credit goes to director Elia Kazan as well for knowing when to switch gears with the character. Despite his seemingly earnest qualities, we find out how truly selfish Rhodes is by the end, and that it wasn't just the rise to fame that did it.
Like many such stories, Rhodes is surrounded by people helping his career along, and riding his coat tails to some degree as well. The real story is Marcia - she brought Rhodes to radio in the first place, and falls for him over time. This is not an easy experience. Her awakening is a hard one, and leads her to a point where she must make a decision. The scene where this unfolds is a little heavy handed for Kazan, so unfortunately as it's really the pivotal scene of the entire film. He gets mired down in the technical detail of running a television show - perhaps audiences in 1957 needed a little extra help, but there would have been a better way to handle it.
In some ways, the movie is dated. We've seen this kind of story so many times since then, it's hard not to know where it's going. The acting and directing manage to keep it interesting. The pacing of the story is spot on - with the exception of this one baton twirling competition (featuring a young Lee Remick) which is needlessly long.
A Face in the Crowd is not one of Kazan's best efforts, but it's a solid one, and a fairly entertaining entry for having such a familiar plot.
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