Imagine if Charles Foster Kane was a country singer instead of a newspaper man, and you’ll get “A Face in the Crowd.”
Actually, that is not an enitrely fair description. “Citizen Kane” painted the good and the bad of its protagonist and showed him for who he really was – a flawed man who had wants and desires that could never be fully achieved, like all of us. “A Face in the Crowd” takes a similar angle, by showing a man rising from nothing to position of power and ultimately being corrupted by that same power and greed.
“Citizen Kane” does its best to mantain Charlie Kane’s humanity, despite his growing need for love and affection. But in this movie, its main character Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) embraces the megalomania and shows just how deep his lust for power can go.
Lonesome is found by a local Arkansas radio persona, Marcia Jefferies (Patricia Neal) in the town’s prison for drunk-and-disorderly conduct but has a knack for singing and playing his guitar. Marcia decides to bring in Lonesome to play on the radio in the morning, and he quickly uses his airtime to say a few things about the people in this town, like the sherriff running for mayor and the owner of the radio stations’ massive pool on a hot summer day. At first, Lonesome feels he is using his voice of the “common people” and putting it to good use, making sure they vote for the right person and helping out kids during a scortching day.
But the way he speaks to people gets the attention of bigger news stations in Memphis and eventually New York, when Lonesome Rhodes gets his own television program that is watched by millions of people across the country. As Rhodes gains more fame and has women swooning over him at every event he attends, he also eventually gains power over a senator and wants to start making his way into politics.
The power of “A Face in the Crowd” comes from how small and simple Lonesome Rhodes starts out, even with his big personality. He claims at one point that he puts everything he has into everything he does, even his boisterous laugh. But as we see Rhodes using his power more and more to his own advantage, instead of for the people like he did while on the Arkansas radio, we see more of this sadistic man who is only out for himself and will do anything he pleases, losing what made him popular in the first place.
But because Lonesome started out in a place where everything comes from, we end up seeing a lot of ourselves in him. That if we were given the same opportunity where a camera or microphone is constantly forced in our faces, we might lose ourselves as well and give into the power he has. It is both freightening and relatable at the same time.
Of course, Andy Griffith’s performance is what makes this movie so powerful. It is strange having only known about his television work before watching “A Face in the Crowd,” where I had known him to be a wholesome and honest character, yet we see him playing a despicable man who drinks too much and handles more women than a brothel, but still knows how to connect to the common man. He does everything over the top and so passionately, like any moment will he his last moment of life, which makes meanical transformation so much fun to watch.
I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen during “A Face in the Crowd,” as I was always so curious how far Lonesome Rhodes would take his power trip and what would be lost in the process. It is also a great example of how the media can corrupt people with good intentions, or take people with bad intentions and give them a platform to reach other people. While the movie doesn’t outright attack all media outlets, so does show that media creates power quickly, and that power can be corrupted easily.
Final Grade: A