I was very critical of this movie, but on its own terms as an example of left-liberal interpretation of native American fascism, and in light of its excellent performances, I must single out Andy Griffith, who outdid himself as Lonesome Rhodes. R.I.P. Andy Griffith. (These paragraphs are taken from a prior blog, http://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/.)
“As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, both anathematized for “naming names” are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven Schulberg and Kazan into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left.
In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians. Patricia Neal, Lee Remick, and Walter Matthau were outstanding too, as was the direction by Kazan, and the brilliant screenplay by Schulberg.
Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People): “You made me, Marcia. You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.” Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e., quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:] “It was the sound man. I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].” [Marcia:] “It was me.” The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”) [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in. But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.” Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and the muckraker depart: “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.”
Shot in black and white, the film nods at film noir, with the femme fatale played by Patricia Neal. That “Marcia” destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg (2001), where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase). This movie was the inspiration for Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. See http://clarespark.com/2011/07/07/network-and-its-offspring/.”