Last evening I found myself watching an old movie I’d wanted to see for a long time, A Face in the Crowd.
It was Andy Griffith’s first movie and to my surprise it was also directed by Elia Kazan, the guy who spent the rest of his life living down having ratted out Hollywood pinks to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the 1950’s. Like many who have had to atone for their weaknesses (Teddy Kennedy comes to mind) Kazan did some of his best work afterward making a couple outstanding movies including the transcendent On the Waterfront. (Take that Al Netland!)
It was a long movie for its era but I watched it straight through. It was about a small time smooth talker from the sticks with a gift for gab who knows how to take advantage of a good opportunity when one falls into his lap. Think Citizen Cane or All the King’s Men. That opportunity is television as it was in the 1950’s. Even now it has me reflecting on the uses to which politicians or sleaze balls can put television. Fox News and the country charmer’s “Cracker Barrel” have some remarkable parallels.
Andy Griffith’s character’s used an “aw shucks” sort of self effacement to win over converts. I just wish I could expose a fraud as easily as Patricia Neal did in the movie’s last act when she turned on the sound as the credits of the Cracker Barrel were rolling and Andy ridiculed the loyal audience that he had duped.