Andy Griffith: much more than cornpone

Today we remember a great TV star who left us with one of the great performances in movie history – Andy Griffith.

During every single year of the 1960s, Griffith entered the living rooms of most Baby Boomers as Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and in guest appearances on Mayberry R.F.D.   Younger folks knew him from another ten seasons on television starring as Matlock.

But, in his very first feature film, Griffith shed the likeability and decency that made him a TV megastar and became a searingly unforgettable villain.  In the 1957 Elia Kazan classic A Face in the Crowd, Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, a failed country guitar picker who is hauled out of an Arkansas drunk tank by talent scout Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal).  It turns out that he has a folksy charm that is dynamite in the new medium of television.  He quickly rises in the infotainment universe until he is an A List celeb and a political power broker. To Jeffries’ horror, Rhodes reveals himself to be an evil, power hungry megalomaniac. Jeffries made him – can she break him?  The seduction of a gullible public by a good timin’ charmer predicts the careers of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, although Lonesome Rhodes is meaner than Reagan and less ideological than Bush.

Amazingly, A Face in the Crowd did not garner even a nomination for an Academy Award for Griffith – or for any of the other filmmakers.  Today, it is well-regarded, having been added to the library of Congress’ preservation list in the US National Film Registry and rating 91% in critical reviews tallied by Rotten Tomatoes.  It is one of the greatest political films.

Thanks, Andy.

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