The death of Andy Griffith brings to mind his searing performance in Elia Kazan's 1957 drama, a remarkably prescient examination of media and political manipulation - well before Twitter or cable news or even Watergate. (Actually, writer Budd Schulberg is said to have fashioned the Lonesome Rhodes character, at least in part, after Arthur Godfrey.) James Wolcott examined the film some years back in Vanity Fair:
A Face in the Crowd was and is a satire for the enlightened minority ("some of us, at least") about the threat posed to democracy when TV personalities achieve magnetic sway over the masses and wield their popularity like a whip. If Fascism comes to America, this film suggests, it'll be wearing the friendly, donkey grin of a good ol' boy. Written by Budd Schulberg (who also did the screenplay for Kazan's On the Waterfront), A Face in the Crowd is a dark-hued tall tale about a rough-diamond charismatic--Andy Griffith's singer-joker Lonesome Rhodes--who catapults into national celebrity, only to become the puppet of a populist scheme orchestrated by corporate overlords, who exploit his likability as a lever of social control. Rhodes is no innocent buffoon; he's as cynical as his paymasters. He preys upon the yearnings and insecurities of regular folks and plays them for suckers, until he commits career suicide by open mike, the victim of a "Macaca" moment.