A Face in the Crowd now more relevant than ever

Andy Griffith delivers a haunting performance as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd.

Ed Piwowarczyk joins me on Moving Target today, the eve of the U.S. presidential election, with a look at A Face in the Crowd. The 1957 film seems terrifyingly familiar today, doesn’t it, Ed?

He’s a womanizer, a bigot, a con man, a demagogue. He’s Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, the protagonist of A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg.

Released in 1957, the film is a cautionary tale about how the intertwining of media, advertising and politics can give rise to a Frankenstein monster. The movie retains its potency today with the parallels between the Rhodes character and U.S. President Donald Trump. The former was born into poverty, the latter into wealth, but both are able to manipulate people and circumstances to their advantage, proclaiming themselves champions of the “little guy.”

Rhodes is played by Andy Griffith, and his portrayal is 180 degrees opposite from kindly Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. His aw-shucks charm conceals his self-centeredness and disdain for those around him.

A Face in the Crowd opens with small-town Arkansas radio producer Marcia Jeffries, played by Patricia Neal, discovering Rhodes in the drunk tank and falling for him, both professionally and personally. She gets him a morning radio show, and his success leads to a TV spot in Memphis. Then it’s on to New York, where Rhodes’ snake-oil persuasiveness sends sales of a worthless vitamin pill skyrocketing, and prompts its maker to enlist him to boost the prospects of a presidential hopeful. Rhodes is convinced he can peddle anything—or anyone—to his fans, whom he secretly despises.

Marcia remains loyal to Rhodes despite his spurning her affections, but his marriage to a small-town majorette, played by Lee Remick, is the last straw for her. It triggers an unmasking that leads to Rhodes’ downfall.

With its portrayal of the rise of a populist demagogue, A Face in the Crowd still merits our attention more than 60 years later.

Ed Piwowarczyk, my husband, is a writer, editor and movie buff.

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This writer really suffers: Misery

Watched just the movie I needed last night, the eve of Halloween. Misery, the 1990 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, is a genuinely scary tale about the horror in everyday situations.

Celebrated romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has just completed a manuscript he hopes will take his career in a new direction, when his car careens off a snowy mountain road and down a steep embankment. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be his No. 1 fan. She takes him to her remote Colorado home, sets his broken legs and proceeds to nurse him back to health. When Annie reads the final novel in Paul’s Misery series and finds that he’s killed off his heroine, she is horrified. She makes him burn his new manuscript, locks him in his room and forces him to write a sequel titled Misery’s Return.

Apart from the grotesque hobbling scene in which Annie breaks Paul’s feet with a sledge hammer (in the book, she chops off a foot with an axe), Misery is light on the blood and gore. There’s plenty of suspense as we watch Paul snoop around the house while Annie is away, and wonder whether he’ll be caught.

But what is really scary about this story is knowing that these situations actually occur: witness the real-life kidnapping victims who have been held prisoner for years.

The cat-and-mouse dance between Caan and Bates takes the film to an even higher plane. Caan’s role is a reactionary one; his Paul Sheldon exudes frustration from the confines of his bed. And Annie Wilkes was a career-making role for Bates. In split seconds, she switches from a resourceful mother figure into a madwoman…barking mad! Not surprising that the part earned her an Oscar for Best Actress.

Kept me on the edge of my seat right until the end.

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Money, the root of all evil

Today I’m Kevin Tipple’s guest on Kevin’s Corner, posting about why I explore financial crime in my novels and short stories.

As I told Kevin, some people will murder for money.

To read the full post, click here.

Kevin Tipple, an author and reviewer in Dallas, Texas, is vice-president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, the august organization which confers the annual Derringer awards for short fiction.

Author and reviewer Kevin Tipple

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Launching A Grave Diagnosis!

Next Saturday, Oct. 31, Carrick Publishing will launch the release of its new crime fiction anthology, A Grave Diagnosis. The collection includes tales by 35 writers–some of them established storytellers, others making their literary debuts. And all the tales revolve around illness or injury of some kind.

The online party will be on Zoom, so authors from across Canada, the United States and Britain will be on hand to discuss their stories and read from them. Events will get under way at 2 p.m. ET.

To be admitted to the party, email carrickpublishing@rogers.com early this week. Today, if possible. You’ll be given an ID number and a passcode to submit for entry. Don’t wait until 1:55 p.m. next Saturday to apply for your entry codes.

I look forward to seeing you on Zoom next Saturday. I’ll be talking about my new short story, “Hooked.”

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