Has the invention of mass media helped or harmed society as a whole? Do the right people hold the power to shape and influence public discourse and opinion? Or do those with the media’s power use it for destructive and dangerous purposes?
These questions are relevant today but were also relevant in the 1950s when TV gained a foothold in homes across the country. 1957’s A Face in the Crowd attempted to warn audiences about the dangers of such a powerful medium and how a popular media personality could manipulate the masses to do their bidding.
Here are five reasons you should definitely watch A Face in the Crowd:
#1 – Andy Griffith
Griffith delivers a powerful and mesmerizing performance as Lonesome Rhodes from his first moments onscreen to the film’s final seconds. While most people know him as Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Showor Ben Matlock on Matlock, A Face in the Crowd gives us a darker performance from Griffith, which shows his incredible range as an actor.
His presence is felt whether he’s in a scene or not. His character’s manipulative behavior resonates and influences everyone and everything he touches. It’s quite a testament to Griffith in his first film role just how masterful his portrayal of Rhodes is. To play a character loved by the masses but reviled by those who really know him is a feat that Griffith handles with amazing adeptness throughout.
#2 – Director Elia Kazan and Screenwriter Budd Schulberg
Kazan and Schulberg had previously teamed for On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando (whom they wanted to play Rhodes in this film). It’s clear that the filmmakers did their homework about mass media and advertising to create an accurate satirical take on the dangers of one man having the power to manipulate the masses via television.
TV was still a fairly new technology at the time, but it was clear to Kazan and Schulberg how much sway it could have over the public’s perception of people and products. Watching the film today in our mass media-dominated culture shows that their attempts at warning people back then fell on deaf ears.
#3 – Even More Relevant in 2024 Than it Was in 1957
A Face in the Crowd’s message is clear: mass media has the power to influence large groups of people and, in the wrong hands, can do more harm than good. Lonesome Rhodes uses the power he’s given to enrich himself at the expense of those around him, all the while knowing that what he preaches to the audience is 100% fake.
Today, mass media and its personalities have given rise to a whole new generation of Lonesome Rhodes. People out for themselves who will do and say anything and everything to manipulate others and play off their sympathies for views, likes, and money.
We were delivered a cautionary tale in 1957 about what we’re constantly witnessing in our world today, and nothing was done to prevent it. Now, not only do manipulative TV and social media personalities prey on others but those with designs on even greater power do as well.
#4 – The Dangers of Power, Personality, and Politics
Lonesome Rhodes isn’t satisfied with being a TV personality or product pitchman; he has designs on something even greater: politics. Rhodes is a magnet for those in the political sphere who see him as a conduit to the people. He’s someone they can utilize to get their talking points out to the masses and get the votes they desperately seek to gain power.
Of course, Rhodes is in the game for himself, and he takes advantage of his prowess as a political advisor to garner even more influence as a populist spokesperson. He has the ears of the people, visiting them directly in their homes via TV each week. He speaks the truth they want to hear, making him trustworthy to the gullible masses.
We see this now more than ever in politics, and A Face in the Crowd prophetically showcased the dangers of giving an egotistical manipulator such power. It’s amazing how accurate this cautionary tale was in predicting how politics and media personalities would co-opt and abuse mass media technology for their own selfish desires.
#5 – It’s a GREAT Movie!
This is an amazingly potent and powerful film. You can tell that the actors and filmmakers were passionate about the tale they were telling. It’s eerie to see a movie that’s almost 70 years old screaming about the dangers of mass media in the hands of the wrong people and to witness this warning continue to play out in 2024.
A Face in the Crowd is a special film. There’s no need for it to be updated or retold; the story it tells is as relevant today as it was back then. You can still feel the power of its message and sadly see that we as a society have done nothing to prevent power-mad narcissists from using media for evil instead of good.
I highly recommend this film and hope that you get as much out of it as I did.
What did you think of A Face in the Crowd? Leave a comment and let me know!