In 1957, Andy Griffith made his first movie. He was just starting his career. Griffith was a singer who went to New York, but couldn’t find work as a singer. He became known because of a comedy monolog called What it Was, Was Football. It reached number 9 on
the 1954 charts. The record got him some television and Broadway plays. His first movie, A Face in the Crowd, presents him far differently than the lovable Andy Taylor and Matlock characters that he played later in his career. It may be Andy Griffith's best movie.
The Movie, A Face in the Crowd was directed by Elia Kazan. It was written by Budd Schulberg based on his short story, Your Arkansas Traveler. The movie featured several actors at the beginning of great careers. Along with Griffith were Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Tony Franciosa, and Lee Remick. It was Griffith and Remick’s first movie.
Patricia Neal’s character, Marcia Jeffries, has a radio show, A Face in the Crowd. She interviews ordinary people for broadcast.
Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, Andy Griffith, is a drifter she finds in jail. She sets him up with a radio show where he sings and spins tales. The show takes off and Rhodes becomes well known.
Rhodes moves to a television program in Memphis. He is supported by Jeffries, Joey DePalma, Franciosa, and Mel Miller, Matthau. His humor and down home charm makes him a gifted salesman. His television show becomes known, and he moves to New York for a national audience. While in New York, he becomes in politics.
Griffith’s character is an amiable drifter, with a knack for scams and a taste for alcohol. On the surface, Rhodes is likeable, but as his popularity grows be becomes controlling and presents a less admirable side of his personality. Along the way he uses and discards people as the need arises. In the end, his audience finds what he really thinks of them and deserts him.
A Face in the Crowd isn’t a subtle movie. It was made in 1957 and filmmaking technique was different, but it is still heavy handed even though it was made by a great director. Critics gave Griffith praise for his performance, but the movie wasn’t well received. It is considered his best performance as an actor. As time went on, the movie became better liked, and is now regarded as a classic. It is even prophetic in anticipation of modern television and radio pundits and television’s attempt to manipulate the public.
The Andy Griffith Show was made in 1960 where he played a very likable character, Andy Taylor. Viewing A Face in the Crowd now, it is somewhat of a shock after only knowing Andy Taylor. It’s a little disconcerting to see how well, and how easily, Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes when compared to Andy Taylor. It is a tribute to Griffith’s skill as an actor to make Rhodes believable.