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A Face in the Crowd

A Face in the Crowd(1957)

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teaser A Face in the Crowd (1957)

SYNOPSIS

Radio reporter Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) interviews a backwoods philosopher named Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) at a southern jail and his down home wit, personality, and talent with a guitar impresses her. Soon, she begins to develop him as a radio personality and after his initial debut Lonesome quickly becomes a star of the airwaves. But as his radio fame grows, the singer/philosopher sets his sights on television. His Will Rogers-like appeal to audiences is perfectly captured by the TV cameras and soon transforms him into a powerful national celebrity. However, Lonesome has a dark side and it begins to emerge as his ego grows larger, eventually requiring Jeffries and her assistant Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) to take control of their "creation."

Producer/Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Budd Schulberg, based on his story "The Arkansas Traveler"
Cinematography: Gayne Rescher, Harry Stradling, Jr.
Editing: Gene Milford
Music: Tom Glazer
Art Direction: Paul Sylbert, Richard Sylbert
Cast: Andy Griffith (Lonesome Rhodes), Patricia Neal (Marcia Jeffries), Anthony Franciosa (Joey Kiely), Walter Matthau (Mel Miller), Lee Remick (Betty Lou Fleckum), Percy Waram (Colonel Hollister).
BW-126m.

Why A FACE IN THE CROWD is Essential

A potent message film about the power of celebrity in the mass media, A Face in the Crowd was not a big success when first released in 1957. Clearly ahead of its time, and certainly one of the first movies to question the influence of television, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg's jaundiced view of TV now seems entirely prescient. In this modern age of American culture, where the confluence of media and politics has never been more tightly intertwined, there have been many media celebrities who have captured the attention and the imagination of the American populace, not by their message, but by how they look and sound on television. Kazan and Schulberg intended A Face in the Crowd to stand as a warning: when we turn on our television sets, radios, or exercise our right to vote, we should be wary of the specter of Lonesome Rhodes. It is a warning that still rings true today.

A Face in the Crowd was made during a time when film productions fueled by independent producers were crossing the content line of what Hollywood studios had previously deemed inappropriate or too daring. Kazan and Schulberg's film crosses this line by not just criticizing Hollywood and the media, but demonizing it in scenes that demonstrate how it could be complicit in fooling the masses with charlatan personalities such as Lonesome Rhodes. Other films had spoofed Hollywood, such as Singin' in the Rain (1952), but very few major productions exposed the inner workings of the mass media and the calculated methods in which they influenced the opinions of urban and rural viewers

In Kazan on Kazan by Michael Ciment, the director commented on A Face in the Crowd: "One of the points we wanted to make with the picture was the fantastic upward mobility in this country, the speed with which a man goes up and down. That we both knew well, because we'd both been up and down a few times. It's best illustrated in the film when he goes down in the elevator. We were thinking of suicide at one time, but we abandoned it....Our basic interest in this picture was Lonesome Rhodes as a legend. It was to make a legendary figure of him, and to warn the public: look out for television. Remember, this was Eisenhower's time, and Eisenhower won the elections because everybody looked at him and said: "There's Grandpa!" We're trying to say: never mind what he looks like, never mind what he reminds you of, listen to what he's saying....We were also saying, however, that television is a good thing. Abraham Lincoln said: 'Tell the people the truth, and they will decide what to do.' Well, we said that television is good for that - it's a better way. Television deludes some people, exposes others."

A Face in the Crowd was filmed in various locations in Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, and New York City. It was in the 'Big Apple' that the production utilized the old Gold Medal Studio in the Bronx where D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince made many of their pioneering pictures. But, if anything, the film's authentic milieu is due to the presence of a number of well-known television personalities playing themselves, such as Mike Wallace, Bennett Cerf, John Cameron Swayze, Betty Furness, Sam Levenson, Virginia Graham, and Walter Winchell. The film is also notable for launching the film careers of Andy Griffith and Lee Remick, both making their screen debuts here.

At the time of its release, A Face in the Crowd received a lukewarm welcome from the public and critics alike. Both its reputation has improved considerably over the years and French director Francois Truffaut was a champion of the film, writing, " What is important is not its structure but its unassailable spirit, its power, and what I dare call its necessity. The usual fault with 'honest' films is their softness, timidity and anesthetic neutrality. This film is passionate, exalted, fierce, as inexorable as a 'Mythology' of Roland Barthes - and, like it, a pleasure for the mind."

by Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford

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teaser A Face in the Crowd (1957)

You'll notice a number of long takes in A Face in the Crowd. This Elia Kazan technique is probably the result of his fascination with the work of director John Ford, of whom Kazan claimed, "I got more from Ford than anybody else." In his early years while working on the 20th-Century-Fox lot, Kazan watched Ford direct as often as he could, repeating as his mantra, "I must learn from Ford. I must learn to hold the long shot and trust the long shot, not cut into it."

A Face in the Crowd is given an unmistakable air of authenticity by the presence of a number of well-known television personalities playing themselves - Mike Wallace, John Cameron Swayze, Betty Furness, Fave Emerson, Virginia Graham, and Burl Ives, among others.

Walter Winchell, who also portrays himself in A Face in the Crowd, was the inspiration for another title in TCM's 'The Essentials" series - Sweet Smell of Success, which was released the same year as A Face in the Crowd.

Prior to his acting career, Andy Griffith studied to become a preacher but later abandoned that path to concentrate on his singing and guitar playing. He eventually changed his focus to drama and in the late forties and early fifties played Sir Walter Raleigh in the historical pageant Lost Colony.

by Scott McGee

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teaser A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Andy Griffith, who had earned rave reviews on Broadway for his performance in No Time for Sergeants, captured the Lonesome Rhodes character so well that it took him years to live down the role. But Griffith was not finished playing despicable characters, despite being stereotyped as the kind and understanding sheriff and father on the TV series The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith earned kudos for his role as an aging cowboy stuntman who turns out to be a not very admirable character in Hearts of the West (1975). He also gave a memorably evil performance in the made-for-TV movie Murder in Coweta County (1983), co-starring Johnny Cash.

A Face in the Crowd was not only Andy Griffith's film debut but also the first film for supporting actress Lee Remick as cheerleader Betty Lou Fleckum. The film also includes impressive supporting performances by Kay Medford, Burl Ives, Rip Torn, Diana Sands, Faye Emerson, Charles Nelson Reilly and Big Jeff Bess.

The Lonesome Rhodes character was based on several real-life personalities, including Arthur Godfrey, Huey Long, Will Rogers, and even Billy Graham.

The ad agency that Kazan and Schulberg studied as their research for A Face in the Crowd represented the Lipton's Tea account, which was the official sponsor of Arthur Godfrey's radio/tv appearances. The duo may have been trying to uncover the true nature of Godfrey's role as a media pitchman.

Before Elia Kazan ever meet Andy Griffith, he had heard his comedy monologue records, the most famous being the "What It Was, Was Football" routine which enjoyed constant airplay on Southern radio stations during the early Fifties. It's highly probable that Kazan first became aware of this monologue during his pre-production trip to Arkansas.

The Memphis scene in A Face in the Crowd parallels the popularity of Elvis Presley, who was a national star by 1956. The rock 'n roller began filming Love Me Tender the same month Kazan was filming in Piggott, Arkansas - August 1956.

In the book, The Great Man, a popular phrase was coined by writer Al Morgan - "The Great Unwashed" - which was a reference to the national radio-TV audience. Morgan later adapted his novel to the screen in 1956 with Jose Ferrer and Dean Jagger in key roles. It tells the story of a reporter preparing a memorial tribute to a beloved TV personality who in real-life was a despicable phony. Morgan's narrative was obviously a precursor to the Schulberg/Kazan movie in its themes and characters. Morgan was well aware of the true personality behind many public figures since he was a Today show producer (He was later involved in a six-year feud with Hugh Downs, the host of the Today show).

FAMOUS QUOTES from A FACE IN THE CROWD

Joey DePalma: Illegal? Honey, nothing's illegal if they don't catch you!

Lonesome Rhodes: I put my whole self into everything I do.

Lonesome Rhodes: This whole country's just like my flock of sheep! Hillbillies, hausfraus - everybody that's got to jump when someone else blows a whistle! They're mine!

Compiled by Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford

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teaser A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Based on Budd Schulberg's short story "Your Arkansas Traveler," from his book Some Faces in the Crowd, A Face in the Crowd was the second successful collaboration between director Elia Kazan and Schulberg following their Academy Award-winning picture On the Waterfront (1954). Thanks to a strong theatre background, Kazan had solidified his high standing within the acting profession as a highly-regarded "actor's director." For his part, Schulberg had a sharp eye for satire and had written about another media-manufactured monster of the entertainment world in the controversial best-selling novel, What Makes Sammy Run?, based on Hollywood producer Jerry Wald and published in 1941. For the character of Lonesome Rhodes, Schuberg used beloved media personality Arthur Godfrey as the model.

Together, Kazan and Schulberg's combined talents in directing actors and creating memorable characters resulted in a film of considerable impact. Kazan later commented on their creative partnership on A Face in the Crowd: "Budd and I were a perfect team...I dug up research with Budd and helped plan the story structure. Budd rented a place near me in Connecticut, and we spent the summer working together." Kazan basically functioned as the storyteller, even though he did not write a word of the final script. Long known as an adapter of stage plays, Kazan continued his tradition of working with the best writers in the business with A Face in the Crowd. Budd Schulberg said later, "He's been a pioneer, sometimes I think the only pioneer, in treating screenplays with the same respect that he would give a work written for the stage."

Most importantly, what the two shared was a fervent belief in what television would someday do for American politics. Kazan said, "The thing that drove us was our belief in the theme, our anticipation of the power TV would have in the political life of the nation. 'Listen to what the candidate says,' we urged, 'don't be taken in by his charm or his trust-inspiring personality."

by Scott McGee

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teaser A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg spent months researching the advertising world, even gaining access to ad agency meetings, in order to understand the way Madison Avenue approaches and shapes the thinking of the American public. In Kazan on Kazan by Michel Ciment, the director said, "They let us into meetings though they knew we were going to write on it. We saw the product discussions, we saw the charts. Everything that's in that picture, we have an example for. We watched many sessions on the selling of Lipton's tea, the discussions of the word 'brisk' and how to picturise it.....The discussions were really ludicrous: you could hardly keep a straight face at them. But as well as the ridiculous side, you could feel the intense, neurotic pressure they all worked under." In addition to their advertising research, the duo also observed the political arena by going to Washington, D.C., where they interviewed future president Lyndon Johnson, studying the way he walked, talked, and presented himself in private and in public.

A Face in the Crowd was filmed on location in Arkansas, Memphis, and New York City. It was in the Big Apple that the production utilized the old Gold Medal Studio in the Bronx where D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince made many of their pioneering pictures.

In the previously mentioned interview with Michel Ciment, Kazan recalled the Arkansas location filming for A Face in the Crowd: "We became acquainted with a community of strangers - it was not like a work experience, it was a life experience, a thing that affects you very deeply. We became a part of that Arkansas community settling down in new homes there. It was a terrific experience, right from the beginning, the people we met, the insights we got, the privilege we had of being inside a society that otherwise we would never have touched. We met the Governor of Arkansas, we met the mayor of this town, we everybody in this town. Everywhere I walked in Piggott, people were following me. It was like we had the whole town under the reverse of martial law! As though we had liberated the whole town."

When it came to casting, Kazan selected several "people from Nashville; Lonesome Rhodes's friend who twitches his toes, he's from the Grand Ole Opry, a regular comedian there. We went around a lot of clubs, picking up entertainers. I had heard Andy Griffith on record, then I saw him on TV...He was the real native American country boy and that comes over in the picture. I had him drunk all through the last big scene because it was the only way he could be violent - in life he wants to be friends with everybody."

For A Face in the Crowd, Patricia Neal returned to the screen after a four-year absence from Hollywood, an absence that was precipitated by a much-publicized affair with Gary Cooper (who was married at the time), and a subsequent nervous breakdown. In 1953, she married British writer Roald Dahl and raised a family with him. During their marriage, she was struck down by a series of strokes. Her determination to recover is well documented in her biography and the made-for-TV movie, The Patricia Neal Story (1981), starring Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde. Unfortunately, Dahl and Neal divorced in 1983 after the actress discovered that her husband had been having an affair with her good friend.

Elia Kazan chose Neal for the Marcia Jeffries role after seeing her in the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a play that he originally directed on Broadway. According to Neal, the production would have been too expensive to film in Hollywood, which necessitated the need for on-location shooting. Neal later revealed in an article for Films and Filming entitled "What Kazan Did For Me": "When seeing one of Kazan's pictures, one will notice his keen and searching eye. It picks up every detail, analyses the character and almost dissects the very soul of the actor. This is Kazan's hallmark...The one important point when working with Kazan is to be honest and to give everything you have to the part."

Neal was also impressed with how Kazan directed her in the climatic scene in A Face in the Crowd when she betrays Lonesome Rhodes by throwing the microphone switch to Live-on-the-air during one of his insulting tirades against his adoring public meant only for the ears of his producers. "For this scene I had to hold onto the switchboard, crying, while about six men had to drag me away. For the first couple of takes I could not register quite what Kazan wanted. He told me to hold on as hard and as long as I could. He left me and went over to the men who were to drag me away. (I was not supposed to hear him tell them to pull me away from the board as quickly as they could!) We did the scene again, my hands bled and I sobbed as the men pulled me away. Gadge had his scene - and the way he wanted it."

Lee Remick, making her film debut as the sexy baton twirler, showed up at the film set three weeks early, so she could train with the local high school's majorettes.

by Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford

back to top
teaser A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Radio reporter Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) interviews a backwoods philosopher named Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) at a southern jail and his down home wit, personality, and talent with a guitar impresses her. Soon, she begins to develop him as a radio personality and after his initial debut Lonesome quickly becomes a star of the airwaves. But as his radio fame grows, the singer/philosopher sets his sights on television. His Will Rogers-like appeal to audiences is perfectly captured by the TV cameras and soon transforms him into a powerful national celebrity. However, Lonesome has a dark side and it begins to emerge as his ego grows larger, eventually requiring Jeffries and her assistant Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) to take control of their "creation."

A potent message film about the power of celebrity in the mass media, A Face in the Crowd was not a big success when first released in 1957. Clearly ahead of its time, and certainly one of the first movies to question the influence of television, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg's jaundiced view of TV now seems entirely prescient. In this modern age of American culture, where the confluence of media and politics has never been more tightly intertwined, there have been many media celebrities who have captured the attention and the imagination of the American populace, not by their message, but by how they look and sound on television. Kazan and Schulberg intended A Face in the Crowd to stand as a warning: when we turn on our television sets, radios, or exercise our right to vote, we should be wary of the specter of Lonesome Rhodes. It is a warning that still rings true today.

In Kazan on Kazan by Michael Ciment, the director commented on A Face in the Crowd: "One of the points we wanted to make with the picture was the fantastic upward mobility in this country, the speed with which a man goes up and down. That we both knew well, because we'd both been up and down a few times. It's best illustrated in the film when he goes down in the elevator. We were thinking of suicide at one time, but we abandoned it....Our basic interest in this picture was Lonesome Rhodes as a legend. It was to make a legendary figure of him, and to warn the public: look out for television. Remember, this was Eisenhower's time, and Eisenhower won the elections because everybody looked at him and said: "There's Grandpa!" We're trying to say: never mind what he looks like, never mind what he reminds you of, listen to what he's saying....We were also saying, however, that television is a good thing. Abraham Lincoln said: 'Tell the people the truth, and they will decide what to do.' Well, we said that television is good for that - it's a better way. Television deludes some people, exposes others."

A Face in the Crowd was filmed in various locations in Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, and New York City. It was in the 'Big Apple' that the production utilized the old Gold Medal Studio in the Bronx where D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince made many of their pioneering pictures. But, if anything, the film's authentic milieu is due to the presence of a number of well-known television personalities playing themselves, such as Mike Wallace, Bennett Cerf, John Cameron Swayze, Betty Furness, Sam Levenson, Virginia Graham, and Walter Winchell. The film is also notable for launching the film careers of Andy Griffith and Lee Remick, both making their screen debuts here.

At the time of its release, A Face in the Crowd received a lukewarm welcome from the public and critics alike. Both its reputation has improved considerably over the years and French director Francois Truffaut was a champion of the film, writing, " What is important is not its structure but its unassailable spirit, its power, and what I dare call its necessity. The usual fault with 'honest' films is their softness, timidity and anesthetic neutrality. This film is passionate, exalted, fierce, as inexorable as a 'Mythology' of Roland Barthes - and, like it, a pleasure for the mind."

Producer/Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Budd Schulberg, based on his story "The Arkansas Traveler"
Cinematography: Gayne Rescher, Harry Stradling, Jr.
Editing: Gene Milford
Music: Tom Glazer
Art Direction: Paul Sylbert, Richard Sylbert
Cast: Andy Griffith (Lonesome Rhodes), Patricia Neal (Marcia Jeffries), Anthony Franciosa (Joey Kiely), Walter Matthau (Mel Miller), Lee Remick (Betty Lou Fleckum), Percy Waram (Colonel Hollister).
BW-127m.

by Scott McGee

back to top
teaser A Face in the Crowd (1957)

At the time of its release, A Face in the Crowd received a mixed reaction from the public and critics alike. Both its style and content were criticized as exaggerated, which is ironic, given the fact that film seems just as relevant today as it did nearly 50 years ago.

Elia Kazan later stated in Michel Ciment's interview book, Kazan on Kazan, that A Face in the Crowd "was in advance of its time. It foretells Nixon. I don't think it was about [Joseph] McCarthy particularly...The first part of A Face in the Crowd is more of a satire, and the second part tends to really involve you with Lonesome's fate and with his feelings... What I like in the film is the energy and invention and bounce which are very American. It's really got something marvelous about it, this constantly flashing, changing rhythm. In many ways, it's more American than any picture I ever did. It represents the business life, and the urban life, and the way things are on television, the rhythm of the way this country moves. It has a theme that even today is completely relevant."

The entry on A Face in the Crowd in The Oxford Companion to Film, edited by Liz-Anne Bawden, states that "the inherent dangers of personality-building, and the exploitation of the gullible viewing public, were exploited with humour, bitterness, and sharp observation."

In Guide for the Film Fanatic by Danny Peary, the author wrote "Lonesome Rhodes is guilty of taking advantage of the medium - through which you can fool all the people all of the time - but Schulberg is attacking us, the ignorant public who sits like sheep and believes whatever it sees on the tube. The scary thing is that if today Rhodes were caught expressing his real thoughts while thinking the mike was off, his popularity would probably go up - which is what happened to Reagan each time he said something hostile when he thought his radio mike was off. A well-made film; with strong performances by Neal and Griffith whose character is on the surface similar to the one he played on his television comedy series."

In Magill's Survey of the Cinema, Caroline McFeeley wrote "if A Face in the Crowd ends in melodrama, it is neverlessless highly effective satire, exposing the actual workings of an industry which has continued to demand attention for sparse entertainment and high levels of abuse."

Heather Joslyn of the Baltimore Citypaper Online wrote: "Some of director Elia Kazan's hard-hitting, issue-oriented movies of the '40s and '50s seem hopelessly stiff and sanctimonious today (Seen Gentleman's Agreement lately? Didn't think so.), but this raw, underappreciated drama keeps getting better. Maybe that's because it's proved so prophetic. There are echoes of Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and just about every TV pundit and celebrity flavor-of-the-month in Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a no-account hillbilly singer who becomes a radio star, then a TV star, then a national folk hero, then a political figure, and eventually a monster."

But not everyone thinks so highly of Kazan's work. For instance, critic Andrew Sarris does not hold A Face in the Crowd in high regard. In his book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, he placed director Elia Kazan in the chapter "Less Than Meets the Eye" and doesn't even mention A Face in the Crowd in the course of his assessment of the director's career.

by Scott McGee

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