Watch the Glenn Becks of cable news rhapsodize over the airwaves for a few minutes, and you might think we live in a singular political era. And yet 1957’s A Face in the Crowd anticipated today’s blusteringly opinionated political media scene so well that it might make you wince in painful recognition.
Directed by Elia Kazan (from On the Waterfront collaborator Budd Schulberg’s screenplay), the film stars Andy Griffith as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a guitar-strumming man whose knack for singing and folksy attitude get him recognized by a local radio show and eventually catapulted to television stardom. His blues act quickly morphs from product marketing to loudmouthed preaching, and finally to crazed political punditry. At once enthralling, infuriating and sexy, with a terrific cast (including Walter Matthau and Lee Remick), the film captures something of the horrible combined power of politics and marketing. Apparently, moviemakers knew in 1957 what cable channels have just recently found out—opinionated nitwits make for good TV.
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