(1957 b 126')
Written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan, a woman interviews a drunken singer in jail, and he is turned into a radio and television personality with increasing influence.
Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) from the local radio station is introduced to those in the county jail. She talks on the air and starts interviewing people. They wake up Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith) who was sleeping on the floor. He is upset and shouts for her to get away. He looks at her and tells her to wait. He asks what he gets. They say he is in jail for drunkenness and will be released tomorrow morning. She asks his name and calls him “Lonesome Rhodes.” He shows her his guitar and says a guitar beats a woman anytime. He tells her how his guitar pleases him. Others ask for specific songs. He tells her how they tell their funny stories. He says they are not kidding themselves because they are lonely. He says he is going to be a free man in the morning, and he decides to sing about that. He sings about the moon fading away and the sheriff Big Jeff Bess. She thanks him and stops the tape recorder.
Later Marcia plays the tape for her Uncle J. B. Jeffries (Howard Smith). They drive a station wagon and stop to pick up Rhodes on the road. He says he wants to go to St. Joseph, and J. B. says he can’t afford that. She asks how he would like having a plane ticket to Florida, and he says he will try it for one day. They turn around, and he gets in the front.
Marcia is looking at what is in his suitcase, and she suggests sending it to the laundry. He lays down on the hotel bed, and she goes out.
Rhodes is in a recording studio, and Marcia shows him a sign “3 more minutes.” He speaks into the microphone about being free in the morning. He says men do not appreciate how hard women have to work.
Marcia reads mail about Rhodes to her family. In the other room they find Rhodes snoring in a chair with his feet on the table. J. B. says they are calling in to advertise on the station.
Rhodes and Marcia are drinking at a table while some people dance. She asks if he always drinks like that. He talks about his father; but he left when he was little. His mother was often gone. She calls him “happy-go-lucky.” He laughs raucously. The sheriff gets into a fight with Rhodes.
Rhodes is eating pie with his hand while talking on the radio. He talks about a man running for mayor. He suggests making a half-wit the dog catcher so he won’t have to be on relief.
Rhodes drives the car to the sheriff’s house which is surrounded by many dogs. He and Marcia laugh. A man reports that Rhodes sent a mayoral candidate to the dogs.
Rhodes thanks Loreen for his breakfast. Mr. Abe Steiner comes in and tells him he is an agent and asks him if he wants to come to Memphis and become a star. Rhodes says he is a country boy. They shake hands, and Steiner goes out. Rhodes tells Marcia he is playing hard to get. He says cold girls like her crave the same as the rest. Rhodes talks on the radio and on a hot day invites people to go to J. B.’s swimming pool, and many kids do.
Outside Rhodes holds a microphone and talks on the phone. He says he may get lonesome for Arkansas and asks for $1,000 a week and transportation for himself and Marcia.
Rhodes and Marcia board a train at night and say goodbye to the crowd of people gathered.
Backstage Marcia introduces Rhodes to Mel Miller (Walter Matthau), who says he went to Vanderbilt in Nashville. Rhodes wipes off makeup and goes over to the microphone with his guitar. He is introduced as “a face in the crowd.” He sees himself on the television monitor for the first time and talks about that. He says he was told to look at them by looking at the camera. He talks about his father drinking. He starts to sing about moonshine. He asks if the big city boys there ever go to bed. He wondered if it was New Year’s Eve and was told it is only ten at night in Memphis. He looks into the lense of the camera and talks about the trouble out there. He tells what happened to him that morning before the sun came up. He walks offstage and brings back a colored woman. Mel tells Marcia that that takes nerve in Memphis. He tells the woman that she has friends out there and asks them to send in money for her.
Marcia and Abe Steiner wake up Rhodes and show him a wheelbarrow filled with coins. He thanks the good people as Mel watches. Rhodes shows them a large photo of his sponsor. He pulls out a racing form and says that is not it. He starts to read a note from a darling Annie and puts that away. Then he reads a commercial from a paper. The sponsor looks at his television in amazement. Rhodes talks about the mattress and suggests sleeping on the floor. He says that is the end of the commercial and maybe the end of Rhodes.
Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa) finds Rhodes and Marcia and shows them a photo. She asks if it is illegal to steal time from a sponsor, and he says nothing is illegal if they don’t catch you and laughs with Rhodes.
Rhodes talks about the sponsor Luffler. He is handed a paper and reads it is a “message of importance,” but he drops it. He gives them a song they can remember him by. He sings about tearing up his contract and becoming a free man. Luffler watches at home and asks for someone to get him his lawyer.
Rhodes knocks on the hotel room door, and Marcia gets out of bed. He says goodbye and says he is not his brother’s keeper. He says he will see her in jail sometime and walks off. She asks him to come to her and kisses him. She pulls him into her room, and he kisses her. They close the door.
People protest in front of Luffler’s mattress store. Inside Luffler is told that their sales have increased 55%. He gives Joey DePalma papers for the credit department. Joey asks a secretary to get him an advertising agency in New York. They are told that DePalma represents Lonesome Rhodes. Joey asks if they are interested and say five o’clock is the deadline. Joey asks her to get another agency on the phone.
Mel knocks on Marcia’s door to pick her up for the show, and he sees an old suitcase in the hall. Joey arrives and knocks loudly. Rhodes answers, and Joey tells him that he sold his show to the big time. He is going to be on in New York coast to coast. They shake hands and whoop it up in celebration.
General Haynesworth (Percy Waram) of the Vitajex company is doing a press conference, and a chemical expert says that it has nothing that will sell. A woman says that Rhodes is there. Joey, Rhodes, and Marcia come in. Someone coughs, and Rhodes asks if they have any spittoons. Rhodes looks at the white pills they are peddling and suggests they make them yellow like the sun. He chews one and laughs, saying he is ready. He says his personality undergoes a startling change and chases a pretty woman out of the office. He says he will move the merchandise. He sings about Vitajex and how it gives him energy.
Three women in bathing suits are singing about Vitajex, and the audience applauds. A sales chart shows the line going up. Rhodes says Vitajex gives get up and go. A cartoon is shown, and the women sing and kiss Rhodes. A sexy woman on a bed talks about Rhodes and Vitajex.
A man tells Haynesworth that Rhodes could ruin them. Rhodes, Joey, and Marcia arrive, and Haynesworth welcomes them and introduces them to Senator Fuller (Marshall Neilan). He says that Rhodes could be molded into an opinion-maker. He says the masses must be guided by the elite, and TV is the greatest instrument of mass persuasion in the history of the world. He gets Rhodes on the cover of LIFE magazine.
On stage a woman introduces Rhodes. He christens a ship by his name. A man names a mountain after him. Rhodes is flown to New York, and his old friend comes on stage with him. Rhodes does 17 hours on a show raising money. He is given a gold key to New York’s finest hotel.
Marcia in bed answers the phone, and Rhodes tells her he does not like living in a penthouse with many rooms. A woman kisses him and leaves. Rhodes tells Marcia he needs her. She arrives in his apartment, and he says he is restless and lonely. He takes her out on the balcony and shows her TV aerials like branches. He says millions of people believe in him, doing what he says, and it scares him. The general tells him that the country needs him to influence them. He says they are getting in deep. He asks for advice because he is coming to the top of the mountain. He says she will level with him, and he asks her to marry him. She does not say anything and sits down and tells him not to play with her or hurt her.
Marcia is watching TV in the penthouse, and a man brings in Mrs. Rhodes. Marcia asks if she is his mother. She hopes she will have better luck keeping him lonesome. Marcia says she is only a business associate. Marcia wishes Rhodes had told her himself. She asks Mrs. Rhodes if she is there to collect material. Mrs. Rhodes says she must be paid or she will refuse to give him a divorce. Marcia says she is not engaged to her husband. Mrs. Rhodes says she caught him with her best girlfriend and broke her jaw. She says Marcia can have him after three months and leaves.
Men sing country music. Joey, Rhodes, and Haynesworth come in. They demonstrate a laugh machine with different sounds. Marcia asks what they are coming to. Haynesworth invites them to dine with Senator Fuller. Marcia shows Rhodes his latest ratings. He says he has a good lawyer working on his divorce. He says he will go to Mexico from Arkansas.
Mel in an office tells Marcia about the television industry. She asks why he does not quit, and he asks her the same. She says she is deeply involved with him. He reads his article about the “Face in the Crowd” show.
At a football stadium Rhodes is going to select Miss Arkansas majorette. Young women march on the field and twirl batons. They swarm around Rhodes and scream. Mel and Marcia watch it on TV and comment. Rhodes says it is wonderful and watches them perform a cheer for him. He stands on a stage next to the Senator who at a microphone introduces Lonesome Rhodes who talks about wholesome American womanhood. A record plays “Momma Guitar” while he introduces contestants who perform with batons. He notices pretty Betty Lou Fleckum (Lee Remick) smiling at him. She performs next, and he declares her the winner. He shakes her by the shoulders, and she says she is excited.
At a bar Mel talks with Marcia who gets a telegram. She says her barefoot will not be flying in tonight because he is still in Juarez. She tells Mel that Rhodes is getting a divorce. Mel hopes he chokes on a Vitajex pill, and she kisses his cheek.
A plane lands. Mel and Marcia are waiting, and he says she looks nice. Screaming girls run to the plane, and a line of police tries to stop them. Joey gets off. Rhodes is accompanied by Betty Lou, and he says she is Mrs. Rhodes. Marcia walks off and passes Mel. A reporter asks Betty Lou her measurements. She is holding two puppies.
Rhodes and Betty Lou are presented on television with majorettes. Marcia watches the TV in her bedroom. Rhodes says he will not be a free man tomorrow morning, but this is the next best thing. He is mobbed by fans and shows off Betty Lou who takes off some garments. She dances with two batons on fire. Offstage the agent Steiner tells Rhodes that Haynesworth is taking his business away from Rhodes. Steiner talks and collapses.
In her apartment Rhodes tells Marcia that he was afraid to marry her. He says she and the smart-aleck Mel do not approve of him. She tells him not to explain. She says Betty Lou represents his public. She denies she is bitter. He has not forgotten what he owes her and offers her ten percent of his end. She says he is not giving her anything. She says he was her idea, and she should have half. She wants it on paper, and he says he will have George draw up the papers. Rhodes leaves.
Walter Winchell tells where he gets his news which comes from people who usually keep it a secret. Mike Wallace interviews Senator Fuller and asks if he has the presidential itch. He is getting coaching from Rhodes. The Senator is making a speech on TV. Rhodes and other people watch in a studio. An advisor tells the Senator that he needs to learn how to get people to listen to him. Rhodes notes that the Senator’s TV ratings are low. The advisor says they need to sell Senator Fuller. Rhodes says you have to be loved. The Senator says politics is different than his business. Rhodes says he is a professional, and he says Fuller will never make it if he won’t buy him. Rhodes points to the friend he found in jail who is stupid. If he does not like the show, then he knows people will not like it. Rhodes asks his opinion of what he saw on the screen. He says he was flatter than last night’s beer. Rhodes asks The Senator how he is going to get people to vote for him. Rhodes says he needs a whole new personality. Rhodes asks if he has a pet. The Senator says he has a cat, but Rhodes says dogs are better. Rhodes says he will have people loving him.
Later Haynesworth praises Rhodes for winning over the Senator. He warns him that sometimes he is out of control. He warns him that he may alienate people. Rhodes makes a pitch and says if he does not like it, he can get ten others who will.
Lonesome Rhodes has a Cracker Barrel show. He talks with friends and sees Senator Fuller who comes in and meets the boys. At a bar Marcia is watching, and Mel comes in and talks with her. Rhodes asks Fuller about more and more Social Security. He says people want coddling from cradle to grave, and that is weakening the moral fiber. He talks about tough pioneers who built this country. Mel asks the bartender to turn the sound down. Mel tells Marcia he is writing a book called “Demigod in Denim.” He says he should have been punching him in the nose. The publishers say the time is right to pull the mask off him. Marcia disagrees and says it is hard when big shots are hanging around him. She says much money is at stake. She does little things to make him better. Mel says she is the shock absorber for tramps. She says she wants to read that book. Mel says he spared her more than she spared herself. He says he will call her again when he thinks she is ready as he leaves.
At home Rhodes looks at his Gallup poll. Joey comes in and says Rhodes will not hit him. Rhodes says he is through with Lonesome Rhodes, but Joey says he owns 51% of the stock. Joey leaves the room, and Betty Lou comes in. Rhodes makes a call and tells her that she is fired. He says he will treat her the same as any performer who flops. She says Ed Sullivan wants her on his show. He tells her to go back to Arkansas. She flops on the bed and cries.
Rhodes knocks and shouts until Marcia gets out of bed and opens the door. He sits on the bed and takes off his shirt. He says they will have to be more careful now. He says Fuller will make him secretary for national morale. He is launching “Fighters for Fuller” tomorrow night. He says a cabinet minister will be there. He says they would be afraid not to come. She thinks of his power, and he says he has 53.7 and picked up another million. He says he will be the power behind the president, and she will be the power behind him. He tells her he owes it all to her. He lays on the bed and says he is tired. He has a big day tomorrow. She turns out the lamp and grabs a coat from the closet and leaves with a purse.
Rhodes is at his desk and learns that Marcia did not show up and that she coordinates everything. A secretary offers him coffee, and he says he is not drunk. He says he can save the show again by ad libbing. During the show Marcia comes in to the studio. Rhodes talks about his weekend as shown by a movie camera. He asks the technicians to show the movie. He sees Marcia and yells that he wants to see her in his office in the morning. He goes back on stage and talks to the rednecks. He quotes a man who said, “The family that prays together stays together.” The show ends, and he says he is glad it is over. After a commercial he repeats the quote. A technician says if people ever heard him offstage and walks off. During the credits Marcia puts Rhodes on making cynical comments. People watching at home say he is a monster. Rhodes drinks from a flask and tells Marcia to come in strong tomorrow because he will be loaded for bear. He leaves.
People call in and say they no longer like his program. An executive is losing sponsors. Rhodes leaves the building. Joey tells the executive he has a man to replace Rhodes.
Mel says it was like the sinking of the Titanic and asks what happened. They refer him to Marcia, and he tells her she wrote in his book. Mel answers the phone and tells her it is him. Rhodes is at a fancy table by himself. He says he is like poison and asks the servants if they are laughing at him. He says he will make them love him. Marcia listens on the phone. He tries to win over the servants, but they go out. Rhodes tells Marcia if she does not come there, he will jump. She tells him to jump and get out of everybody’s life. Mel tells her he cannot believe it. He says she has to tell him face to face. He tells her to chop if off clean.
Marcia and Mel hear Rhodes ranting alone where the Fighters for Fuller meeting was to be. The man with the laugh machine says he likes lots of applause and gives it to him. Rhodes on the balcony rants to Marcia below. Applause is played, and he cries. He starts to sing a blues song and reaches out toward Marcia. He runs down the stairs and holds her arms. He says he will get back on top again. She says it was her; she had him on the air. She says she is sorry and asks him to forgive her. He tells her to go, and Mel escorts her to the elevator. Mel tells Rhodes he will be back on television again but not in the same way. He will have a show but not a top one. Then new fellows will come along, and people will forget Rhodes. Mel leaves with Marcia. As they are getting into a cab, Rhodes shouts at her from the balcony. Mel says he is not suicidal. Rhodes asks her not to leave him. They go in the cab.
This powerful drama satirizes modern media and shows how a common person with a winning personality can become extremely popular on radio and television, making money for sponsors and influencing mass audiences even though that person may have little wisdom or decent ethics.