Satire

Primary Colors

1998

Universal Studios

Directed by Mike Nichols

Produced by Mike Nichols, Jonathan Krane and Neil Machlis

Screenplay by Elaine May

Based on “Primary Colors” by Joe Klein

A lot of you reading this review won’t remember the controversy and hullabaloo when PRIMARY COLORS hit the screens back in ‘98. The book it’s based on was originally credited to “Anonymous” as it is in the movie’s credits.  Written by political journalist/columnist Joe Klein, the book and movie were both supposedly based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. And after watching John Travolta and Billy Bob Thornton doing dead-bang near perfect impersonations of Bill Clinton and James Carville it’s hard to argue against that.  But even if you don’t know a dodgamn thing about Bill Clinton or his presidency, PRIMARY COLORS works as a spectacularly insightful political drama/satire/comedy on all levels due to the exceptionally strong work of the amazing cast. Sure, there are a few serious bumps along the way but on the whole, PRIMARY COLORS is a Must See Movie about American politics.

Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) is the idealistic grandson of a 1960’s civil rights leader.  He’s involved in American politics in small ways until he’s practically kidnapped into the presidential campaign of Senator Jack Stanton (John Travolta).  Henry’s extremely reluctant to take the job of Campaign Manager until he sees Stanton interact with the public, especially at a meeting with the students of an adult illiteracy class where Stanton brings everybody to tears with the story of how his Uncle Charlie won the Congressional Medal of Honor but didn’t have the courage to admit he couldn’t read. Uncle Charlie will also be influential in other ways later on in the story I dare not reveal.

Henry is totally swept into the campaign by Stanton’s trusted circle: his wife Susan (Emma Thompson) political strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) Spokeswoman Daisy Green (Maura Tierney) and Howard Ferguson (Paul Guifoyle). And they hit the campaign trail which takes them all in directions none of them ever imagined a presidential campaign would take them. Mainly because Jack’s inability to keep it in his pants. One scandal piles on top of another as one of Jack’s mistresses comes forward with tapes of their romantic conversations. And if that wasn’t enough, one of Jack’s friends informs Henry that his 16 year old daughter is pregnant and claims Jack as the father.  To counter all this, Henry, Daisy and Richard bring in Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) to dig up the dirt on the Stantons and clean it up before it can be used against them. Libby has special qualifications for the job as she is a firm political ally of the Stantons and has known them since they were all radical college students.  But Libby suffers from the same disease as Henry. They both have what Richard calls “Terminal TB” They’re both True Believers in Jack Stanton and that belief may be more dangerous than anything else…

Believe it or not, despite my description, PRIMARY COLORS is actually very funny at times. And it worked for me because it made me feel as if I were really getting inside the heart of a political campaign and seeing how it operates.  I liked the scenes where it showed that while Jack Stanton is out shaking hands and kissing babies, it’s his staff that is actually making the pivotal decisions for his career. I liked the scenes where Richard walks into a room and immediately lies down on a bed or couch and fields questions from the other staff members and formulates strategy as if it’s something he was born to do.  I liked how Henry struggled to hold onto to his core values and principals even in the face of such blatant manipulation of public opinion and perception by not only his staff but everybody else involved in the presidential race.

Adrian Lester I knew from the British crime drama “Hustle” and was pleasantly surprised at seeing him in this movie. His British accent and manner slips through at times but he’s good at being our eyes and ears into the Stanton campaign. Maura Tierney is just as good as Daisy Green but then again, Maura Tierney is good in every role I’ve seen her play. Supposedly there was an interracial love subplot between Daisy and Henry that got cut and I can understand why. We see a couple of scenes with the characters together in bed and that’s all we really need to know because the real love affair these characters have is with politics and not each other.

And every time I see this movie I fall in love with Emma Thompson.  She’s simply amazing and totally into the role. I don’t think she’s going so much for a straight-up and down Hillary Clinton impersonation as she is trying to get us to understand the mindset and drive of women who link their destiny to that of men like Jack. The genius of the movie is that we never get a scene with Jack and Susan alone where we get to hear what they discuss in private, away from advisors and press and I like it that way.

But it’s John Travolta and Kathy Bates who clearly walk away with the movie.  As Jack Stanton, Travolta plays a man who is so full of charisma that people fall over themselves to just be in his presence. It’s a performance that just leaves me amazed every time I see it because Travolta does such a good job of disappearing inside of Jack Stanton. And he makes Jack Stanton his own character.  Sure, we see Bill Clinton in there because that’s who it’s supposed to be but Travolta puts spins on the character and I appreciate that he did so in order not to make Stanton a caricature.

And Kathy Bates as Libby is the soul and conscience of the Stantons.  She has a marvelous scene near the end of the movie where she shows Jack and Susan pictures of the three of them when they were young and idealistic and thought they could change the world. And then she begs them to make the right decision. They don’t.

So should you see PRIMARY COLORS? Absolutely yes. It’s a movie full of laughs but it’s also a movie full of seriousness. It feels honest and it feels real. It also feels joyous and sad. It gives hope and then takes it away.  I’m the first person to scoff at a movie that claims to be based on real people or events but somehow I got the sneaking suspicion that PRIMARY COLORS at times comes uncomfortably close to the truth of how politics in America really are.

143 minutes

Rated R

A Boy And His Dog

1975

LQ/JAF

Written and Directed by L.Q. Jones

Produced by Alvy Moore

Based on the novella by Harlan Ellison

Science Fiction movies made today may be a lot of flash and spectacle, stuffed full of plastic characters with shallow motivations and even shallower personalities, backed up by a ton of CGI effects but give ‘em this: at least they’re optimistic.  Science Fiction movies of the 50’s/60’s and 70’s were dour, apocalyptic, doom-laden eulogies predicting The Downfall of Mankind.  More often than not these movies predicted the end of the world through Man’s Own Fault.  Nuclear holocausts was practically a given.  If you watch a movie made during that period you get the distinct impression that nobody thought we’d make it out of the 20th Century.  A BOY AND HIS DOG is a good example of what I’m talking about.  It’s a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction action/adventure with just enough social satire thrown in to give you a chuckle, set in one of the most depressing future worlds you can think of and the ending takes black comedy to a new level.

In the year 2024 Earth has not only seen World War III but World War IV as well and America is a burned out, burned up wasteland.  There’s no civilization to speak of unless you want to try your luck in one of the near mythical underground cities of Downunder.  But above ground Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog Blood (played by Tiger/voice by Tim McIntire) like it just fine.  They enjoy pitting their wits against roving bands of marauders and scavengers, stealing food from them when they can and hunting up women for Vic to rape.  One of these women Blood hunts up is Quilla June (Susanne Benton) who lives Downunder in a city called ‘Topeka’ but sneaks up to the surface from time to time for a little sexual excitement with the savages.  Blood telepathically sniffs her out and Vic captures her.  But he doesn’t have long to enjoy his prize before he and Blood are forced to defend her against a band of scavengers in a brutal battle that leaves Blood badly hurt.

Quilla June escapes Vic and goes back Downunder.  Vic is determined to follow her and leaves Blood on the surface while he makes his way Downunder.  It’s not what he thinks.  Under the guidance of The Committee and Mr. Craddock (Jason Robards) Topeka is like Norman Rockwell on crystal meth.   There’s marching bands 24/7, parades, dances, hoedowns and everybody has their faces disturbingly painted like circus clowns.  Vic is scrubbed down and cleaned up and informed that Quilla June deliberately lured him to Topeka to help with their population problem.  It’s a problem Vic is happy to help them with until he finds out he’s not going to be able to do it the old fashioned way.  Quilla June and some of the young members of Topeka want to enlist Vic’s help to overthrow The Committee and Mr. Craddock so they can establish a New World Order.  The revolution doesn’t go as Quilla June planned and both she and Vic are forced to return to the surface where Vic and Blood are reunited and that leads into the resolution of the relationship between Vic, Blood and Quilla June.  And what a resolution it is.  One that drives home the title of the movie in more ways than one.

A BOY AND HIS DOG probably won’t have much to offer most of today’s CGI happy movie going crowd but then again, it’s not that type of movie.  It was made during a time when a Science Fiction Movie didn’t mean Big Explosions, half a billion dollar budgets, Big Stars and CGI effects every 30 seconds.  A BOY AND HIS DOG relies on the characters and the story to engage viewers.  It’s a film that has acquired Cult Movie status over the years and I think it earned that status honestly.  You’re going to be amazed at how young Don Johnson looks in this one.  He made this movie about 10 years before “Miami Vice” and even in this early work of his you can see flashes and hints of what made him a star later on.  Considering that most of his emotional scenes are with a dog, Don Johnson does a pretty good job.  A lot of their dialog is done with him speaking and Blood ‘speaking’ back telepathically and between the two of them they convinced me that they actually had a psychic rapport.

Blood is played by Tiger, whose major role everybody remembers him in is playing the family dog of “The Brady Bunch”.  But here he actually gets a chance to act and I don’t say that lightly.  A lot of the movie hangs on how Blood reacts to Vic and to give Tiger his credit; he’s just as much of an actor as Don Johnson.  There are a lot of great scenes between them where the dog actually looks as if he’s really ‘talking’ telepathically to Johnson and having a psychic conversation with him.  And Johnson adds to the realism because he treats Tiger just as he would any other actor.  It’s really some nice acting here.  Not great.  But just enough to get across the reality of the situation.  Jason Robards really doesn’t have much to do in this movie and during my research for this review I found out that he really just did the movie as a favor to the director, L.Q. Jones.

Speaking of L.Q. Jones, he’s much better known as an actor.  He’s been in a ton of westerns including two of my favorites: “The Wild Bunch” and “Lone Wolf McQuade” (yes, “Lone Wolf McQuade” is a western) but he occasionally directed movies and TV shows with A BOY AND HIS DOG as his best known directorial effort.  And with good reason.  It’s a really good movie.  Low budget, high enthusiasm, minimum SFX, high concept.  The performances are good and there’s a down-and-dirty realism that you just don’t see in Science Fiction movies today.  I have it in my DVD library and I realize that it may not be to everybody’s taste but I think you ought to at least give it a viewing.

One thing I think I should advise you of, though: In our (shudder) PC obsessed society, the character of Vic may not be to everybody’s liking as no punches are pulled as he’s portrayed as a rapist and a killer.  And then there’s that ending.  So if you think you would be offended watching a movie with such a character as the lead, by all means pass this one by.

91 Minutes

Rated: R

Bamboozled

2000

New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Spike Lee

Produced by Kisha Imani Cameron, Jon Kilik and Spike Lee

The last credit we see at the end of BAMBOOZLED is a dedication to Budd Schulberg.  It’s a dedication that I found most appropriate because Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay for “A Face In the Crowd”.  A movie I’ve seen maybe nine or ten times and I still see new things in it every time I see it.  There’s a lot of “A Face In The Crowd” as well as “Network” in BAMBOOZLED.  In fact, I recommend you take a Friday or Saturday night and watch all three movies  together as thematically they’re the most scathing of indictments on the dangers of television ever committed to film.  They’re all satires, they’re all comedies, they’re all dramas and they’re all true tragedies as well.  Especially BAMBOOZLED in that the situation created by corporate and personal greed as well as the maniacal hunt for ‘The Next Big Thing’ and higher ratings lead to a truly frightening bloodbath that always leaves me stunned when I get to the end of this powerful movie.

Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) is in a whole lot of trouble.  His job at the Continental Broadcasting System is in serious jeopardy.  The network is in last place and Pierre’s boss, Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) insists that Pierre come up with a television show that will appeal primarily to African-Americans.  Dunwitty is an idiot who thinks that because he’s married to a black woman that gives him the right to use the word ‘nigger’ freely.  He has pictures of black athletes on the walls of his office and claims he understands black people more than the uptight, Harvard educated Pierre.  Pierre conspires with his assistant Sloan Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith) to create a show that is so overwhelmingly racist and offensive that Dunwitty will have no choice but to fire Pierre who can then go to another network.  He hires two talented street performers, tap dancer Manray (Savior Glover) and the comic Womack (Tommy Davidson) to star in a show called “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” The show is to be set in a watermelon patch on a Southern plantation and all the performers will appear in blackface.  Womack is horrified, but Manray, eager to make the big time at last agrees to star in the show.  Womack reluctantly goes along, not willing to leave his partner.  And he hopes that maybe he can make some changes by being on the inside.

Now here’s where things get interesting: Dunwitty actually loves the show and puts in on the air where it becomes a mega hit and a cultural phenomenon.  So much to the point that the multi-racial studio audiences begin showing up wearing blackface themselves and proudly proclaiming themselves to be ‘niggers’.  Sloan and Womack are disgusted and horrified by the show’s popularity but Pierre and Manray embrace their success wholeheartedly, even though prominent African-Americans such as Al Sharpton and Johnnie Cochran denounce the show.  The situation is complicated by Sloan’s brother Big Blak Afrika (Mos Def) and his politically oriented rap group, The Mau Maus who hatch a plan to kidnap Manray and execute him publicly on a live Internet web cast in protest.

BAMBOOZLED isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people.  I’ll be honest here: Spike Lee isn’t exactly the most subtle of filmmakers when it comes to making his point.  The images of blackfaced actors shuckin’ & jivin’ in a watermelon patch to the music of a group called The Alabama Porch Monkeys (played by The Roots) is one that a lot of people won’t want to see.  And I can understand that.  BAMBOOZLED is a hard movie for me to watch and I have a tremendous amount of liking and respect for the film.  So I can imagine the impact it’ll have on people who don’t like Spike Lee or this kind of material.  But I remember watching some of the so-called ‘comedies’ featuring black actors on UPN or TBS and I realize that “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” really isn’t that far from what they air.  We get the message but Spike Lee really goes out of his way to make sure that we get it.

The visual style of the movie goes a long way to selling the story to me.  Spike Lee shot the movie using digital camcorders that you or I could go into any Best Buy or Wal-Mart and buy.  This method gives the movie a documentary-like feel that I liked.  What else did I like?  Jada Pinkett Smith has never really impressed me all that much as an actress outside of her roles in “Low Down Dirty Shame” and “Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight” but here she plays a wonderfully detailed character who is truly horrified by the situation she finds herself in.  I remember Tommy Davidson from the old “In Living Color” TV show where he always struck me as one of the most consistently talented performers.  He doesn’t seem to get a lot of work and I don’t understand why.  Here he shows a definite talent for drama.  As does Savior Glover.  Sure, we know he can dance good enough to make angels weep but he also can act.  I ended up not liking his character and think that he deserves his eventual fate but I sympathized with him and understand why he made the choices he did.  Damon Wayans makes some odd choices in his playing Pierre Delacroix, including using a really odd, nasal way of speaking and an unusual way of using his hands while talking.  But I appreciated seeing him do something different.  I’ve always liked Damon Wayans and his easy going manner of acting in comedies.  I’d like to see him in more dramas.  And any movie that has Paul Mooney in it automatically gets my attention.  Paul Mooney is probably the funniest man who has ever lived.  This cat wrote for both Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle and if I have to tell you any more than that then you just don’t get it.  And I really liked Mos Def in this one as well.  If you’ve ever seen “Something The Lord Made” then you know that Mos Def really can act.  That was made in 2004 but even in this 2000 movie you can tell he’s got the chops.  He and Jada Pinkett Smith have a wonderful scene where they discuss how black people are portrayed in movies and television that is so compelling you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an actual conversation.  Michael Rappaport does an excellent job of playing a character that is totally unlikable but yet, you can’t wait for him to show up on screen to see what he’ll do next.

So should you see BAMBOOZLED?  Well, I certainly think you should if you’re in the mood for heavy social satire. In fact, Netflix BAMBOOZLED, “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” and watch ‘em all back to back.  BAMBOOZLED is not light entertainment at all.  In a lot of ways it’s a highly offensive movie where negative images of African-Americans fill the screen and shove themselves into your face.  And if you’re sensitive about the use of the n-word then you should stay away because it’s used often here.  But I recommend BAMBOOZLED if for no other reason than Spike Lee dared to explore how African-Americans are used and exploited by television and popular media and did it in such a thought-provoking manner.  You may love it or hate it but BAMBOOZLED, like “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” should make you think and question about what you watch on television and why you watch it.

Especially now.

Rated: R

135 Minutes

Be advised that there is no nudity in the movie and no violence until the last fifteen or twenty minutes but the language throughout is mighty raw.  And the n-word is used enough to make even Quentin Tarantino blush.  So if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.


 

 

The Fifth Element

Columbia Pictures

1997

Directed and Written by Luc Besson

Produced by Patrice Ledoux

Is there any doubt that whenever a list of the coolest guys on the planet is compiled, Bruce Willis is somewhere on it?  Right from when he made his big splash on the TV series ‘Moonlighting’ and then hit box office gold with “Die Hard” and it’s sequels, Bruce Willis has been not only one of our most likeable and favorite action heroes he also just comes across a really cool guy.  Bruce Willis has never appeared remote or distant to us.  He’s approachable.  One gets the impression that if you met Bruce Willis on the street and asked him if he wanted to go get a beer he’d say; “sure” and you’d spend the night with him kicking the willy bobo.  Maybe that’s the real charm of his appeal: Bruce acts and feels like one of us: a regular guy who made good and lucked into a brilliant Hollywood career but never forgot his New Jersey roots.  I like him and I like most of his movies.  And one of his best movies is the science fantasy action/satire/romp THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a cab driver living and working in 23erd Century New York where vehicles fly along skyways.  He’s a retired Federation Special Forces major who’s just trying to keep his head down and live as quiet a life as possible.  And he’s been doing that until a beautiful red-haired woman named Leeloo (Mila Jovavich) literally drops out of the sky into his cab.

Leeloo is “the perfect being” who has been genetically created to save the human race from a Great Evil that has taken the form of a living planet and is heading straight at Earth.  The only way to stop this Great Evil is to find four stones that embody the characteristics of the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  When combined they will give their power to The Fifth Element which is The Perfect Being and give this entity the power to destroy The Great Evil.  However the problem is to find the four stones.  Especially since they’re being hunted by kazillionaire industrialist/munitions dealer Zorg (Gary Oldman) who has allied himself with The Mangalores, a reptilian warrior race that is hilariously bent on destruction at all costs.  Zorg is an agent of The Great Evil and he’s just as single-minded to find the stones as is Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) who is the latest in a long line of human priests who have served another alien race, The Mondoshawan who have been the keepers of the stones for millennia.  Korben is recruited by his old boss General Munro (Brion James) on orders of The President (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) to secure the stones.  This means that Korben has to agree to a rigged contest to meet his contact: the blue skinned alien opera diva Plavalagunan (Maiwenn Le Besco) who is appearing on the pleasure starliner ‘Fholston Paradise’.  But the Mangalores find out about the meet and they have their own plans for the stones…as does Zorg…

Korben has to secure the stones from The Diva Plavalagunan, save the starliner when The Mangalores hijack it in true ‘Die Hard’ fashion, do an interstellar radio show with the bizarre Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) and after all that still figure out a way to save the world from The Great Evil.

I love THE FIFTH ELEMENT to death for a number of reasons.  First off, it’s one of the most original and imaginative fictional worlds I’ve ever seen on screen.  There’s an entire universe here that is a visual treat.  The production design of the movie was created by French comic artists/creators Jean Giraud who is more popularly known as ‘Moebius’ and Jean-Claude Mezieries.  The costumes were created by a French fashion designer: Jean-Paul Gaultier.  All of which contributes to the unique look of the movie.  THE FIFTH ELEMENT looks like no other science fiction film you’ve seen.  Unless you’re a fan of the American magazine “Heavy Metal” which in itself reprinted stories from the French magazine “Metal Hurlant” which was a graphic magazine of science fiction and fantasy stories.   There was a “Heavy Metal” movie made in 1981 and a respectable argument could be made that THE FIFTH ELEMENT could be considered as an unofficial remake of the ‘Harry Canyon’ segment of that anthology movie as it has a lot of similarities.   All of which sums up like this: THE FIFTH ELEMENT has a unique flavor to its look, tone and style that is quite refreshingly different from conventional science fiction movies.

Second, I love the humor in this movie.  Most science fiction movies are so deadly serious it’s fun to see one that doesn’t take itself so seriously.  The group that eventually gets together to say the world is so goofy that you figure the world might be better off if they failed.  But they come together as a team in a way I found really charming and surprising. And even the soundtrack is different.  It’s got a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor, especially during a crazy ass car chase where Korben is outrunning the cops.  A car chase with flying cars, remember.  It’s as wild as it sounds.

Third, the performances.  Bruce Willis does something really surprising in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  He doesn’t play ‘John McClane In Space’ as I think a lot of people expected him to do.  Korben Dallas is a totally different character and some of the best scenes in the movie is how Korben Dallas reacts to the events he’s involved in.  Bruce Willis knows the effectiveness of how a single look can enhance a scene and he does it to great advantage in this movie.   This was Mila Jovavich’s first big role and she does a great job conveying the charm and grace of a “Perfect Being” (whatever that is).  She’s got a lot of terrific scenes with Ian Holm as his character is the only one who can understand her “perfect language”

And now we come to Chris Tucker.  Sigh.  I really don’t understand my brother.  I’ve seen him in interviews and in the remarkable PBS series “African American Lives” and he talks and behaves nothing like the way he does he does in those horribly embarrassing “Rush Hour” movies.  However, I have to say that I can accept his wildly over-the-top performance in THE FIFTH ELEMENT because that’s the nature of the movie.   It’s that kind of movie where you either have to go along with what’s on the screen or not.

I do have to say that as much as I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s hilariously bizarre performance as the intergalactic industrialist/arms dealer Zorg I have no idea why or how he came to be working for The Great Evil or what he hoped to gain from that arraignment.  I mean, The Great Evil is coming to destroy all life on Earth, right?  So wouldn’t that mean Zorg as well?  And for that matter The Great Evil is never really explained.  Why does it want to wipe out Humanity?  Why do The Mondoshawan care so much about why Humanity survives?  Why do they establish a sect of human worshippers on Earth?

Even after all the questions and doubts I still say watch THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  Chances are you’ve seen it already.  Good for you.  It’s not only a great Bruce Willis movie it’s a great fun movie as well.  It’s got terrific visuals, outstanding productions values and special effects that hold up amazingly well 18 years later.  Enjoy.

Rated: PG-13

126 minutes

A Face In The Crowd

1957

Warner Brothers

Produced and Directed by Elia Kazan

Written by Budd Schulberg based on his story “The Arkansas Traveler”

Every once in a while I’ll run across a movie that’s a real eye-opener in terms of subject material and acting. Usually it’s a movie I’ve heard or read about but rarely shown on television or available on DVD. A FACE IN THE CROWD is a movie I’ve never heard about and when it was shown on Turner Classic Movies the only reason I watched it was because the excellently informative and engaging host of Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne made the movie sound so interesting that I decided to give it a try, even though it was starring Andy Griffith who had never impressed me as a dramatic actor.

Two hours later the movie was over and I was sitting in my seat trying to believe if what I had just seen was really made in 1957. A FACE IN THE CROWD is so mature and fearless in attacking its subject matter and the portrayal of the characters it could have been made yesterday. The movie is as surprising and startling as a safe dropping on you out of the clear sky. As a satire on the dangers of hero worship, television and the influence it has on our lives it deserves to be ranked along with “Network” and “Bamboozled”.

Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) works at a radio station in an Arkansas town that is so small it ought to be ashamed to lay claim to the designation. She tirelessly hunts up local oddballs and eccentrics for her daily 15-minute spot “A Face In The Crowd”.  One day she discovers a hobo named Larry (Andy Griffith) locked up in the town jail. This Larry is an engaging rascal, full of outlandish jokes; down home philosophy and amusing songs he makes up right on the spot. Marcia smells talent here and by the next day has the hobo out of jail, cleaned up, renamed Lonesome Rhodes and on her show as a regular. By the end of the week, Lonesome has become such a hit that he’s got every woman in town sending him home made apple pies, he’s brought in three new sponsors for the radio station and he’s even begun to influence local politics which doesn’t make him best friends with the local sheriff.

It isn’t long before Lonesome has begun to attract the attention of a new entertainment medium called television.  With frightening speed he has his own weekly show where he’s dispensing folksy humor along with his unique views on life. The country charm that Lonesome has over people is almost hypnotic and it seems that there is nothing he can’t get his rapidly growing audience to do, whether it’s sending in $20,000 in quarters to pay to build a homeless black woman a brand new house (and trust me…in 1957 Arkansas that IS something of a feat) or starting a riot outside of the office building of his sponsor. Lonesome attains the status of a modern day rock star as he goes on to sell-out concerts, hit records and a top rated television show where he hawks a product called ‘Vitajex’ that promises everything but is actually made up of nothing.

And while his power grows so does his insatiable lust for power. Soon Lonesome has the confidence of powerful government men and he is in a position to become a truly major player. He personally coaches a weak-willed senator into becoming a media darling like himself because Lonesome realizes it’s much more profitable and powerful to be the man who makes kings rather than being king yourself. And Marcia watches Lonesome’s rise to power with growing horror as he goes from an amiable moonshine sippin’ gentleman loafer to ambitious madman.  And like all fools careless enough to ignore the warning label on the bottle she has to figure out some way to put the jinni back in the bottle…or trick him into doing it himself without getting destroyed herself in the process…

There are a few things that just amaze me about A FACE IN THE CROWD. If, like me you only know Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor from Mayberry, his performance here is going to blow you away. This is a savagely demonic Andy Griffith who is nice and pleasant as sweet potato pie one minute and a raging monster the next.  I couldn’t believe he could make a character this depraved so likeable and yet so despicable. That Andy Griffith didn’t win an Academy Award for this movie is absolutely inexplicable to me. Matter of fact, A FACE IN THE CROWD was not nominated for one single Academy Award, which makes me wonder did anybody even see this movie that year.

Patricia Neal is wonderful in her role as Marcia and one of things I really like about this movie is that the story doesn’t let her off the hook. In order to keep Lonesome under her control she uses a variety of underhanded tactics including sex, a fact that the movie doesn’t shy away from dealing with. In another movie Marcia might have been a victim but not here. The tough, mature script makes it clear she’s an adult who knew full well who she was getting into bed with, both literally and figuratively and she deserves what she gets. As does the rest of the excellent supporting cast: Tony Franciosa plays Lonesome’s agent who is lower than a snake’s stomach and he’s just like everybody else in the movie: out for whatever he can get.  He’s the first one to sell out Lonesome, both on a personal and professional level with a calculating callousness that’s almost as scary as Lonesome’s. Lee Remick plays Lonesome’s teenage wife and Walter Matthau plays Mel, one of Lonesome’s writers. This movie is another example of Walter Matthau’s versatility. Sometimes I think I prefer him as a dramatic actor than a comedian. His performance here is sharp and full of verbal wit.

What else did I like about the movie? I gotta mention the ‘Vitajex’ commercial, which is one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life. I must have watched that damn thing a dozen times and every time I howled with laughter. I defy anybody to watch it and not think of our modern day Viagra and the claims it makes. It’s just yet another way in which A FACE IN THE CROWD proves that despite being made almost 50 years ago, it deals with issues of sex, money, fame, power and the price men and women are willing to pay for them in a manner that is so fresh and so willing to treat viewers with intelligence and respect that it makes a whole lot of today’s movies look ridiculously adolescent by comparison.

125 min.
They didn’t rate movies back in 1957 but if I had to give one to A FACE IN THE CROWD I’d assign it PG-13. The characters do screw each other over emotionally and psychologically in a pretty raw manner and the sexual relationship between Lonesome and Marcia is handled with surprising bluntness and honesty.