In recognition of the fact that this blog has completed its first year (year and 2 months to be exact since it began in July of 2013 but who’s counting?), welcome to a new feature that will run every other month or so. It is called “If You’ve Seen…Then You Must See…” What it will do is take one movie from the Golden Era that is well-known or recognized as being of high quality, and then introduce a very similar movie in type or theme also from the Golden Era that is not as well-known but also of similar quality that you’re sure to enjoy. The point is to help these lesser-known gems find an audience so that they can be fully appreciated like their more well-known counterparts are and receive some of the recognition they rightfully deserve in view of their excellence. Here is our first matched set:
If You’ve Seen…”A Face in the Crowd”- A great movie with a great cast. Hard-hitting, superbly acted, and eerily prescient, this gem packs a real punch in showing what celebrity thrown upon the undeserving can do to all involved. Andy Griffith (pictured above) just about burns a hole in the screen as ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, an amoral hillbilly hobo who rockets to stardom on fake charm, then makes fools of just about all who love and cater to him-including the public- until they get to know him better in a dramatic twist of fate. Powerfully directed by Elia Kazan, with excellent support from Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau (all pictured above) along with Lee Remick, this is one of the best movies of the 1950’s as well as one of the best depictions of the unseen underbelly of show business, where scruples and success clearly do not always go hand in hand. Highly regarded by classic movie fans and rightly so. With that being said…
Then You Must See…”The Great Man.” This unknown gem from 1956 covers similar ground as “A Face in the Crowd” with one striking difference-the subject of the movie is never seen. Directed by and starring Jose Ferrer, this is the story of a beloved radio star and leading network icon who dies in a car crash. Ferrer’s character, a reporter at the same network, is asked to create an hour-long program to be broadcast coast to coast to eulogize “The Great Man.” He is told that if he does a really good job on the assignment his own career will take off. So to get material, he tracks down the man’s co-workers, friends, and family. There’s just one problem: no one who truly knew the man liked him. In a series of vignettes, we find that no one is willing to say anything good about him. It seems that beneath that wonderful public persona he created for his listeners was a total jerk. Nasty and vindictive, he used and discarded people left and right. He was a cheat, liar, drunk, and wife beater-and those are some of his better qualities.
The general consensus is “good riddance” when they discuss his death. So what is Ferrer to do? His bosses, with ulterior reasons of their own, are expecting a glowing tribute. Should he whitewash the man, tell the truth, or just cancel the program altogether? The answer is not until the final few minutes and is certainly no disappointment. The opening lines of the movie are in voiceover by Ferrer where he says, “It started on a Tuesday. It was a Tuesday like any other Tuesday of the week”, and set a tone for the rest of the movie to expect the unexpected. There are great performances from some of the better character actors of the day such as Keenan Wynn (pictured above), Dean Jagger as the head of the network with his own agenda, and Ed Wynn, Keenan’s father, in a particularly poignant role, as the man who gave “the great man” his first big break in radio and has his small radio station physically wrecked by him years later. Also with a fine performance by Julie London (pictured above) as his estranged alcoholic wife, this is a movie that can certainly hold its own with “A Face in the Crowd” and shares an interesting connection: The reason why they are similar in theme is because they are both supposedly based on Arthur Godfrey, a beloved radio and TV star of the 1950’s who was said to have a very mean streak behind the scenes.
So perhaps see for the first time or re-view “A Face in the Crowd”, and then look for “The Great Man” if you have a chance, and appreciate what both will provide, a highly entertaining take on behind-the scenes broadcasting that has not lost any of its power or relevance for audiences both then and now.