This post isn't going to cover Griffith's television work at all....instead, it's a film that I recently saw, and quite honestly, I think it's probably the best way to celebrate his career.
A Face In the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan, would have very little problem fitting into our contemporary culture, focusing on a small time drifter's media-driven rise to fame and power. It's a story that we're seeing play out on a regular basis 50 years after the film was made, but the film still feels fresh and insightful. (Thank Budd Schulberg's screenplay, which may have integrated various real-life influences, but never comes across as derivative or accusatory)
But the real secret of the movie is Griffith's performance - in many films of this nature, the temptation would have been to make the character somehow "likeable". In similar performances, there is often a slight "tell" in attitude where the actor says I'm not really this bad of a person - I'm just playing a bad guy.
Andy Griffith never does this - all throughout the film, he gives off such a Machiavellian sense of purpose, and an extremely malevolent attitude, that it's hard to reconcile this with the small-town sheriff he would portray ten years' later. It's the kind of performance most modern actors might avoid, or worse, play up the more "crazy" aspects. Griffith's performance heads along a razor-sharp line between his character's public "down-home" persona and a more ambitious, scheming, arrogant private persona.
Throughout this week, many television stations may rerun marathons of Matlock and The Andy Griffith Show. We'll even discuss how that personal helped a nation through a turbulent time in its history.
But for my money, I'd rather honor his life with A Face In the Crowd. It's one of the best movies I've seen in a long time....and I think this is the best way to celebrate his career.
It's his finest hour. Do yourself a favor. See it. Now.