If ever there was a film that spoke of the ill-advised road to fame and fortune – paved with its good, but unfortunate and corrupting intensions – Elia Kazan’s A Face In The Crowd (1957) is that film. A sort of perverse Picture of Dorian Gray for the redneck set, the film is ramped with all the slick, split and polish of an emerging media age.
The unlikely casting of wholesome and congenial Andy Griffith as Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes – an impoverished hobo whose saving grace is that he’s got something to say and is certain people are willing to listen - serves the story well. Lonesome is 'all heart' turned saccharine, then pure poison by radio promoter, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal).
With her connections and Larry’s gift for gab, the two embark upon a blitz that transforms this good ol’ boy into a crass and power mad media sensation. As his ego swells, Larry begins to realize that with fame comes the bitter and reclusive understanding life has changed – and not for the better. This self discovery is both sobering and tragic.
Based on screenwriter Budd Schulberg’s ‘The Arkansas Traveler’ the film keeps a frenetic pace with the sensationalizing media blitz. Paralytic and crippling, and quite often frightening, Griffith’s performance is simultaneously one of his most perverse and engaging. Kazan, frequently the purveyor of ‘message pictures’, on this occasion recants what Shakespeare might have coined as ‘a tale told by an idiot…full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.’
Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits solid image quality; nicely balanced gray scale, anamorphically enhanced, with solid blacks and mostly clean whites. Contrast levels are bang on. Fine detail is smartly rendered throughout. The audio has been cleaned up. A featurette, ‘Facing The Past’ takes the place of an audio commentary; at 30 min. too short – but nevertheless succinctly providing sound bytes from the principle cast.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)