Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Andy Griffith's trip to the dark side

Before Mayberry, before Matlock, the beloved American actor and TV icon explored darker, more troubling territory in Elia Kazan's 1957 classic, "A Face in the Crowd."

Andy Griffith’s trip to the dark side


Andy Griffith, who died this week, age 86, in his native North Carolina, will forever be remembered as the affable widower sheriff of fictional Mayberry, N.C. With his flappy ears and smalltown sagacity, Griffith’s Andy Taylor became an American icon, a sitcom hero who rode out the cultural maelstrom of the 1960s with implacable country bumpkin charm.

But let’s not forget Griffith’s work in an altogether darker, more disturbing look at the American psyche and its rural roots: In A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan, Griffith starred as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a Southern drifter who becomes a media sensation – an American Dream success story turned on its head. Griffith is intense and electric as Rhodes, who sings his way to stardom, embracing a folksy, feisty persona that wins over the masses -- masses whom in truth he harbors nothing but contempt for. “If they ever heard the way that psycho really talks,” Rhodes’ producer mutters with a sense of sorry wonder, and indeed, eventually they do hear.

Sharply scripted (by Budd Schulberg), with a cast that includes Patricia Neal (the radio programmer who discovers Rhodes), Lee Remick (the high school majorette Rhodes runs off with) and Walter Matthau (the TV writer who helps shape Rhodes’ populist image), A Face in the Crowd  pulls back the curtain to reveal the cynicism and greed, malevolence and media manipulation that can lurk behind fame’s façade. It’s as timely now as it was in 1957, when Griffith made his amazing acting debut in this amazing film.   

Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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