Until somebody discovers Don Knotts in a Tijuana donkey flick, this is the real skeleton in Andy Taylor's closet. Wait until you see folksy, lovable Andy Griffith as snarling reactionary demagogue Lonesome Rhodes, a no-'count folksinging prisoner who gets discovered by TV producer Patricia Neal and becomes a nationwide phenomenon. What's weird is that Rhodes — who turns his good-ol'-boy act on and off as need be and despises his fans for the gullible rubes they are — isn't much different from Griffith's TV persona. The difference between Rhodes onstage and off somewhat resembles the difference between Griffith in the black-and-white years of The Andy Griffith Show and after it switched to color. Either way, it's hard to see Sheriff Andy in quite the same way once you've watched Rhodes screw, swindle and swagger his way to the top of the heap.
Naturally, this being 1957, Rhodes ultimately takes a fall — but by that time he's seduced Neal, corrupted innocent teenage cheerleader Lee Remick (in her first movie role) and virtually manhandled his way into the White House. Directed with crackling venom by Elia Kazan, the movie's indictment of TV-drugged sheep predated Network by two full decades. As scripted by Budd Schulberg, who wrote Kazan's On the Waterfront, the movie's a sometimes queasy mixture of cautionary populism and liberal contempt for the masses (just like Network), but Kazan's staging was never more crudely dynamic.
The movie screens twice today as part of The Belcourt's "Visions of the South" series.