The Demagogue Agog

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A FACE IN THE CROWD is a great monster movie.

My investigations into Elia Kazan stalled slightly but I need to get them moving again because there’s still so much good stuff to see. This one was so absurdly timely I knew I had to catch it before events overtook it entirely, which they practically have. The protagonist, “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) can stand comparison with Donald Trump in many ways, but rather than being a caricature he’s actually more restrained. He’s a more appealing figure in every way — he actually has charisma and talent, for one thing. Trump only ever had a big mouth and the mirage-like aura of success, which is apparently enough to command respect.

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As I say, it’s a great monster movie. Rhodes starts small, like the Ymir in 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (released the same year) but expands to nation-threatening proportions thanks to the media. Patricia Neal, who had dealt with alien enigmas in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and STRANGER FROM VENUS, has the role of Frankenstein, raising the creature from its harmless microbial form and rendering it dangerously powerful.

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The real horrorshow imagery is at the climax, where the monster’s raging shadow is shown, elongating arms waving ape-like against the New York skyline, a vivid and unmistakable evocation of KONG. Both big sideshow acts meet their doom atop Manhattan skyscrapers. And as Griffith’s ballsy perf, which has always been BIG, runs amok in the final stages of ego meltdown, his twisting, empurpled lips resemble those of Fredric March’s Mr. Hyde, another hideous id unleashed upon an unprepared civilisation.

Like most of the best monster movies, this is a warning, and now seemingly a prophecy.

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9 Responses to “The Demagogue Agog”

  1. After playing a media-savvy TV monster in a jes’ folks guise, Griffith went on to become an unironic jes’ folks sitcom star. So far as I know he never displayed any Lonesome Rhodes tendencies; the show’s only propaganda was an idealized small town America and occasional Post Cereals commercials featuring the cast (Common back then. The Beverly Hillbillies and even the Flintstones shilled for Winston cigarettes).

    Still, it was a bit like Lionel Atwill playing an avuncular scientist with no hidden horrors. Perhaps “A Face in the Crowd” simply didn’t reach the households that watched the sitcom.

    One wonders what would have happened if AFITC came out after a season or two of Griffith being lovable on a weekly basis — presuming anybody would let it happen.

  2. It might be like Henry Fonda’s villainous turn in Once Upon a Time in the West — simply unacceptable to the American public (so we’re told).

  3. Whoever released the “Access Hollywood” tape is the new Patricia Neal

  4. Ol’ Andy, a lifelong New Deal liberal, could barely stand when he participated in Ron Howard’s 2008 pro-Obama ad:

    http://comedy.videosift.com/election/video/Ron-Howard

  5. revelator60 Says:

    Griffith’s other famous post-Kazan role was Matlock, the sly Southern defense attorney in the light gray suit who regularly unmasked the real criminal on the witness stand. Sheer corn, but Griffith was a master at eccentric folksiness. My parents use to regularly watch the show and say what a good actor he was. And grandpa Simpson loved it too…

    The oddest role of Griffith’s career might be “General Rancor” in “Spy Hard,” starring Leslie Nielsen. Rather weird seeing him play a cornpone Bond villain, but he attacked the role with his usual zest.

  6. The wide shot in the Obamad looks like a VFX shot — reminiscent of those movies where they’d pretend Lionel Barrymore could still walk. Odd to see AG in that context right after AFITC.

  7. La Faustin Says:

    “Here’s how Vita-Pig solved HIS problem!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RO3mtyHwz0

  8. WSho would have thought Kazan would be able to channel Frank Tashlin so effectively? Makes me want to see The Arrangement.

  9. I’ve seen Andy Griffith in a rather curious villainous role, as the booze-soaked patriarch of a deeply dysfunctional family in a made-for-TV film called “Under the Influence” (1986), also starring Keanu Reeves (who acquits himself reasonably well I though.) The material is earnest and unsubtle but Griffith was appallingly convincing as a cauldron of alcoholic rage blaming everyone except himself for the mess that his family has become because he spends most of his days in a bar. He’s not as terrifying as James Coburn is playing a similar role in “Affliction” but he’s pretty intense.

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