by Jack Nilan            EMail :

A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Movie Grade A+

McCarthyism Connection Grade B-

McCarthyism Connection
An Arkansas hobo becomes an overnight media sensation. Some of his earliest supporters discover that they have been fooled and decide they have to "testify" against him.



Jack   A+
IMDB    8.1

   A Face in the Crowd, an indictment of the power of mass media, tells the story of Lonesome Rhodes (played by Andy Griffith), an ex-con and guitar picker who finds himself a huge superstar overnight thanks to some appearances on local radio and television. As his fame increases, hubris brings him down.

   The Lonesome Rhodes figure has been said to be modeled on Joe McCarthy, Will Rogers and Arthur Godfrey. The movie explores how a mass media personality can gain power that could ultimately be detrimental to the country.

   What I found most interesting from a McCarthyism point of view is how the story, (directed by Elia Kazan and scripted by another "friendly" witness, Budd Schulberg) treats the two characters, played by Walter Matthau and Patricia Neil. These two characters had been duped by the Lonesome Rhodes character. They were two of his earliest supporters and helped him climb to a position of power. Once they realized that they had been fooled, they felt they had to do what they could to help bring this dangerous person down.

   I think we can look at this movie, like we have at an earlier Kazan and Schulberg production, On the Waterfront, as a justification as to why Kazan and Schulberg testified before the HUAC. They had been duped by Communism, come to see the inherent dangers in it and felt they had to testify to help stop this menace.

   This movie is a little more difficult to analyze than On the Waterfront, because it also warns of the dangers of a mass media creation like Senator Joe McCarthy. It is very interesting that on the one hand they can point the potential dangers of a person like Senator Joe, but on the other, say they had still done the right thing by testifying against the threat to our government. It is sort of like On the Waterfront, Part Two (we were still right even though Senator Joe was wrong).

   Obviously, in current times, with the debates about the Patriotic Act, these issues are just as relevant today. And with the recent release of Soviet files, it seems there were quite a few spies in our government. So maybe Kazan, Schulberg and McCarthy were right.

   In any case, the bottom line is that A Face in the Crowd, is a great movie.