Andy Griffith has died at the age of 86. There will be many tributes to him in the days to come, I'm sure, and most will focus on his landmark TV program THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Since that show was such a cultural landmark, it's fitting that it should feature prominently in the coverage of his passing.
And while I have always been a fan of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (at its best, it was simply one of the funniest shows ever put on television), I think proper attention should also be given to Griffith's extraordinary performance in Elia Kazan's noirish drama A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957). It tells the story of a guitar playing Arkansas hobo named Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes who shoots to stardom as a plain-speaking radio personality and then morphs into a power-mad neo-fascist TV host.
What's striking about this film is what a spot-on assessment it makes of media power. As Rhodes, Griffith's good ol' boy charm is as naturally deceptive as a snake's skin. It hides him in plain view. Watching the film today one can't help but think of the Glen Becks and Sean Hannitys and all the other millionaire "news personalities" who peddle corporate interest talking points wrapped up in the guise of truth-telling populism. The film has lost none of its bite. In some ways, it seems to presage the age we're living though, the age of Sarah Palin and Citizens United.
So revisit Mayberry, by all means. In particular, see the episode "The Pickle Story" about Andy and Barney replacing Aunt Bee's homemade pickles with store bought pickles. Cornpone? Sure, but trust me, this is situation comedy firing on all cylinders.
But also catch up to A FACE IN THE CROWD if you haven't seen it. It shows what a powerful dramatic actor Griffith could be, and it demonstrates the sophisticated way he harnessed that natural North Carolina charisma. He was a good ol' country boy. But he wasn't just a good ol' country boy. He was truly great.