Brow Beat

The Best Movie About Television That You’ve Never Seen

Farewell to Budd Schulberg, dead yesterday at 95 , a writer famed for charting Hollywood underhandedness and Hoboken corruption , not quite famed enough for his script for Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957). In his film debut, Andy Griffith played Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a garrulous Arkansas hick who becomes a star of radio and television by laying on the down-home charm. The Mayberry-type charisma curdles once he goes on up to New York City and becomes a demagogue, something of a hybrid of Will Rogers, Glenn Beck, and Sweet Smell of Success ’ J.J. Hunsecker. Is it possible for a movie to be selected for the National Film Registry and still be underrated? Everyone who owns a TV set needs to know that A Face in the Crowd is unsurpassed as the great American story about television. I haven’t found any obits of or tributes to Schulberg that make mention of Vitajex, a snake-oil stimulant that sponsors Rhodes’ show and that he cravenly endorses as a proto-Viagra. The rocking set piece below—a delirious montage of special messages from the fictional sponsor—stands alone as a potent riff on advertising and desire.