Many fans of the late Andy Griffith, including myself, were upset by last night’s Oscars ceremony. No, Seth McFarlane didn’t do any offensive joke at Griffith’s expense, we were mad because this year’s In Memorium segment failed to include him.
As any well-read film fan would tell you, Griffith was more than just the sheriff of Mayberry, he was a movie actor… and a pretty good one at that. Case in point, I present Exhibit A: A Face in the Crowd.
Long before The Andy Griffith Show, the actor played Larry “Londsome” Rhodes, a radio and TV personality whose charming folksy demeanor hid a dark, black heart. Griffith plays the role with gusto, attacking his fellow actors with an intensity that is as far from Griffith’s real life kind nature as you could get. He manipulates his audience at the same time he privately loathes them… and Griffith’s natural charm makes this easy to believe.
It’s a great film, directed and produced by Elia Kazan (he had previously directed On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and East of Eden – not a bad track record). Patricia O’Neal costars, and the supporting cast is filled with some great character actors – Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and a young Lee Remick just to name a few.
The basic premise of the film – the incredible power that media and media personalities have, and how corrupting that power can be – is just as relevant today as it was when the film was released in 1957 (actually, with the rise of talk radio and politically-slanted cable news channels, it’s probably MORE relevant). We see the rise and fall of Griffith’s character, and, while the “fall” part is a little over-played and trite, the performances elevate the material and make up for the cliched plot.
The Oscars may have forgotten to recognize Griffith’s film career, but his fans won’t… especially when he made such a great film such as A Face in the Crowd.