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Warner Home Video presents

A Face in the Crowd (1957)

"Shucks, mister, I'm just a country boy."- Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith)

Stars: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau
Other Stars: Lee Remick, Percy Waram, Paul McGrath, Rod Brasfield, Marshall Neilan, Rip Torn
Director: Elia Kazan

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:05m:49s
Release Date: 2005-05-10
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AB+ B


DVD Review

Entertainment and politics have been inextricably intertwined ever since the Kennedy/Nixon debates of 1960. This prescient film by Elia Kazan, written by Budd Schulberg, predicted that television and packaging of political influence as entertainment would lead to demagoguery and a cynical manipulation of the populace. The subject matter could have been deadly dull, but it's powered by some devastating performances from the principal cast.

Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) is doing a morning radio show, A Face in the Crowd, that interviews ordinary people in Northeast Arkansas. She tries her luck at a local jail, where she discovers a drunk by the name of Rhodes (Andy Griffith in his film debut). When he demonstrates an ability to sing and a charismatic down-home personality, she dubs him "Lonesome" Rhodes and sets him up with his own program. He quickly touches a nerve with the locals, and rapidly ascends to a television program in Memphis and then across the country. That's not enough for Rhodes, and he falls in with a right-wing political group and determines to get his candidate, the stuffy Senator Worthington Fuller (Marshall Neilan), remade as a man of the people. But Marcia, with the voice of writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) as her conscience, is having second thoughts about what she has created.

Few political films are quite as affecting as A Face in the Crowd. Demagogues have always had a ready audience in America, and Lonesome Rhodes is a combination of Joe McCarthy, Huey Long and Father Coughlin, demonstrating a simultaneous ability to manipulate and a sneering disregard for the intelligence of his audience. Unfortunately, his techniques, rather than serving as the warning intended by Kazan and Schulberg, instead have become a how-to guide. Fuller is a prim and effete Eastern snob being remade into a countrified good-ole-boy, while expressing complete contempt for his backers. He's determined to bring them under fascistic rule by elites, and at the same time getting them to readily accept having their pockets picked by destroying Social Security, spouting platitudes about prayer and family. Although at first blush Kazan and Schulberg seem unnecessarily optimistic about the undoing of demagogues, Mel Miller's closing speech makes it clear that in the long run it's a losing battle (personified here by a young Rip Torn).

The film sports an extraordinary cast. Griffith had primarily been known as a stand-up comic, but he gives the fraudulent Rhodes a depth and vileness that is quite astonishing, best exemplified by a hearty but bitter horse laugh. Kazan was known as an actor's director, and he really pulls out an extraordinary performance from Griffith. Patricia Neal displays an intriguing combination of sincere affection for Rhodes and an increasing disgust at the monster that she has brought forth and is continuing to enable. The interaction between them drips with sincerity and they have an excellent chemistry. Anthony Franciosa is memorable as Rhodes' go-getter manager, who makes a similar ascent by using Rhodes for his own purposes. Walter Matthau makes an early appearance as the self-loathing intellectual who writes material for Rhodes and hates every minute of it, determined to bring down his meal ticket. The verisimilitude of the story is accented by the presence of actual journalists, including John Cameron Swayze, Mike Wallace, and Walter Winchell as part of the proceedings.

The two-hour running time flies by; the story of Rhodes' meteoric rise and fall is fascinating and holds the viewer's attention like few other pictures of its ilk. The lighting and compositions of the film are attractive and often evocative; when Rhodes and Marcia finally kiss, it's in a long shot, down a hallway, making for a very striking image. Like much of this film, it will not easily be forgotten.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks excellent, with plenty of fine detail. The black-and-white picture has a wide range of greyscale with fine blacks and subtle textures. There's hardly a speckle present in the generally flawless source material. On occasion the picture is a little soft, but the transfer does not try to overcompensate for this by slapping on excess edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 English track sounds fine, without hiss or noise. Griffith's sleazy and earthy southern blues singing comes through rough-hewn and vital, as it should. Nothing at all to complain about here.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: clear plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:51m:02s

Extras Review: In addition to the anamorphic widescreen trailer, there's also a substantial (29m:11s) documentary that includes footage with most of the surviving principals, including Griffith, Neal and Schulberg. It starts off with an examination of Kazan and Schulberg's history with the Communist Party and their naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, explaining their motivations better than any other presentation. There's good discussion of the making of the film, the main weakness of which is the constant re-use of the same photo of Kazan. Surely there must have been more than one picture of the man available? This is the only DVD in the "Controversial Classics" box set that doesn't have a commentary, but this documentary goes a long ways towards making up for that omission.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

Required viewing for anyone interested in the evolution of politics into pre-packaged entertainment, with an excellent cast and a fine transfer. A worthy documentary is the principal extra.

Mark Zimmer 2005-05-09