Friday, August 7, 2009

Just a Face in the Crowd

Ramblings Post #51
Every now and then, a face in the crowd will be "called home" by God or fate or the Great glowing Chupacarbra or whoever it is that collects your offerings and the newspapers will print an obit that catches your eye. It's that moment when the inventor of the twist off beer cap or first man to swim to all the Hawaiian islands has his second moment in the sun (provided he actually got his first) and you have one of those little moments that makes you go "interesting", right before you turn to the comics.

This is really is an excuse to talk about a movie I really like.

I like Turner Classic Movies. It's on the speed dial of my remote and there is nothing quite like a lazy Saturday afternoon watching old comedies from the 1930's, 40's and 50's. The things you could get away with when you couldn't get away with anything just made for better writing. Then one night, I tuned into a film that was captivating, and has since become one of my favorites. The guy who wrote it, Budd Schulberg, died the other day at 95 and it reminded me I need to go find this puppy on DVD. The film is Andy Griffith's film debut in 1957 and it was called "A Face in the Crowd".

If you're over thirty, you know Andy Griffith as either Sheriff Andy Griffith late of Mayberry (they sure got creative with character names back then ) or the venerable and loquacious Ben Matlock. He was affable, funny and generally likable.

The character for his film debut was anything but.

Imagine if you will a Mel Gibson-ish hick, with Rush Limbaugh's bombastic nature and a clear field to play in, set in the middle 1950s, and you have A Face in the Crowd. Griffith plays like a character from a show that could be on HBO next week, all at once lying, cheating, using people and making them feel good about it as he abuses their hopes and dreams. If you ever wondered how a man who played a milquetoast for thirty years on TV ever got hired in Hollywood, it's this performance that says he could have been a Brando-esque star if only apparently he'd decided to do it, instead when he was offered the quiet television show he picked that and became an icon of the old south's contribution to television. One can imagine after he'd done this, there wasn't a whole lot of range left to go. As the character rises from a vagrant to a media empire, the story is well written, well plotted and reads much like one that could exist today. It's one I'm not sure why Hollywood has overlooked as remake material and if they ever do they need a kick in the It would be as if they remade Casablanca or Gone with the Wind.

Griffith's portrayal of Lonesome Rhodes is as a man destined for greatness the second he realizes the power of his voice on a small town radio station. From there he slithers his way ever upward, a public persona so in contrast to his business face, that you find yourself almost salivating for his eventual crash. That the film stars a young Walter Mattahu as a script writer for the character and later quite possibly his only real friend, despite his antics is an added bonus.

It's a film, along with a raft of others, I could sit and watch with hot buttered popcorn on a slow Saturday night and feel I hadn't missed a thing going on in the world.

Barkeep...good wine. Something springtime.

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