While it's about as subtle as a stick of dynamite in a keg of nails, A Face in the Crowd was one of the first intelligent attempts to examine the impact of mass media on average citizens. If Budd Schulberg's script plays its hand too heavily by today's standards (it's pretty hard to shock anyone now by telling them television can be used to manipulate the mass audience), it still works, thanks largely to fine work by a superb cast. In his film debut, Andy Griffith gave the greatest performance of his career as "Lonesome" Rhodes, a small-time con artist who discovers that his "aw shucks" homespun act can make him wealthy and powerful as a radio and television star. The near-cancerous growth of Rhodes' ego and unholy lust for power is a fascinating thing to witness, and anyone who knows Griffith only as Andy Taylor from Mayberry will be shocked by the gale-force megalomania of this role; he never again approached the mesmerizing ugliness of this character. Patricia Neal is equally impressive as the bright and ambitious Marcia, swinging from confidence to wounded vulnerability with heart-wrenching effectiveness. And while Walter Matthau has the thankless task of delivering the film's moral in his final speech, you can't say that he didn't know how to make the most of it, as he sums up Lonesome's crimes with lip-smacking cynicism. Add the crisp and adventurous black-and-white camerawork of Harry Stradling and Gayne Rescher, and Elia Kazan's brisk and methodically paced direction, and you get a "message movie" that still feels fresh, even if the message has dated.
by Mark Deming review