Not just 'A Face in the Crowd'...
By Brad Friedman on 7/3/2012, 11:12am PT  

Andy Griffith, 1926 - 2012

But beyond the beloved Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry and, later, Matlock, there is another reason to remember the importance of Griffith to American culture today: Elia Kazan's under-appreciated and hauntingly prescient 1957 classic A Face in the Crowd...

In it, Griffith portrays small-time Memphis singer and former jailbird Larry Rhodes who ends up, through a lucky turn of events, becoming a national sensation as "Lonesome Rhodes" before turning his newly-found celebrity power towards political influence.

"What follows suggests the influence of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein," writes Aisha Harris at Slate today, "and foreshadows the enormous role celebrity has played in American culture in the half-century since the movie’s release. Rhodes becomes an overnight star so powerful that he can no longer be contained by small-town television. His influence carries over to a national audience and, more dangerously, into politics, as a media coach to an aspiring presidential candidate"...

Rhodes' "descent into monstrosity," as described by Harris and captured on film decades ahead of it's time, captures the essence of the con by far too many political-celebrity demagogues a full 50 years later. Suffice to say, Glenn Beck will probably not be mentioning this film today.

We'll also echo Harris' recommendation: "If you’ve never watched A Face in the Crowd before, do yourself a favor this July 4, and spend a couple hours with some Independence Day counter-programming: a dark vision of the country brought gloriously to the screen by one of America’s favorite sons."