Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, respectively the writer and director of A Face In The Crowd (’57) “were convinced they had another hit on their hands. They didn’t. Critics shrugged, and the box office disappointed. (The film was so unsuccessful, in fact, that it effectively ended Andy Griffith’s movie career**, consigning him to the very medium A Face in the Crowd assailed.)
“I thought it was going to tap a very responsive chord,” Kazan wrote to Schulberg. “Apparently I miscalculated.”
“The problem, as diagnosed by The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, was that audiences found Rhodes unbelievable. The public, he wrote, would never be snowed that easily — they would be ‘finished with him’ before a real-life Rhodes could do nearly so much damage.
“Time, of course, would prove Crowther wrong and the filmmakers right. Though the film arrived just as television was saturating the country — in 1950, fewer than 10 percent of American households had a set; by the end of the decade, nearly 90 percent did — the two men intuited how susceptible the American public would be to this form of mass communication and the ways it could be used to corrupt the nation’s politics.
** Except No Time For Sergeants, released exactly a year after A Face In The Crowd, was a major hit. It was actually the financial failure of Onionhead (released in late ’58) that drove him into television, according to Griffith’s videotaped interview in the Archive of American Television.