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Film / A Face in the Crowd

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"Marshy, lookit all them TV aerials, stickin' up like branches—a whole forest of 'em. From here to San Diego. And all of 'em waitin' t' hear what I got to say."
Lonesome Rhodes

Roving young reporter Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) brings her radio equipment into a podunk Arkansas jail and falls into an interview with one of the inmates, Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith, in his screen debut), who proves — probably to his own surprise — to be a naturally charming and charismatic man. Christened "Lonesome" Rhodes, he soon begins a rocket-fueled ascent from drunken drifter to national media and political powerhouse, changing both of them forever. Among the people joining them for the ride are cynical radio/TV writer and Vanderbilt graduate Mel Miller (Walter Matthau), ambitious office boy Joey de Palma (Anthony Franciosa), and teen baton twirler Betty Lou Fleckum (Lee Remick, in her film debut).

Written by Budd Schulberg (based on his short story "Your Arkansas Traveler") and directed by Elia Kazan, this 1957 film's message about the power (and danger) of media demagoguery remains frighteningly relevant, while Griffith's vivid portrayal of Lonesome Rhodes helped him to get his start in Hollywood, and is usually considered the finest performance of his career.

In 2008 the film was added to the National Film Registry.

Compare Network, another satire on mainstream media and media demagoguery from two decades later with a much more cynical edge.

The film provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: As their professional and personal relationship deepens, Lonesome begins addressing Marcia as "Marshy", which he says is short for "Marshmallow".
  • The Alcoholic: When we meet Lonesome, he is serving a week in jail for being drunk and disorderly in public. Throughout the film, he is regularly seen drinking from bottles of bourbon or glasses of beer, sometimes socially, sometimes for Liquid Courage, and sometimes simply because he can. In the final scene, he drinks himself into a nearly incoherent rage after his public desert him.
  • All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Or, this being the 1950s, baton twirlers. Lonesome Rhodes returns to his hometown of Pickett, Arkansas to judge the local high-school girls in a baton-twirling competition. Near the beginning of this scene, the drum majorettes are doing an old-fashioned Scatting-like cheer with some not so old-fashioned bumps and grinds. Lonesome makes a corny introductory speech extolling baton twirling as "an honest-to-God American art form" and knowing "just how hard it is to do it right." The camera angles during the contest itself suggest rather less wholesome intentions in mind, not to mention his immediately subsequent elopement with the contest winner, a curvaceous seventeen-year-old by the name of Betty Lou Fleckum.
  • The Barnum: By the film's third act, Lonesome is completely unapologetic about how easily he can manipulate his audience; one word from him, and they can either rally behind or desert any person, product, or idea that might occur to him. Unfortunately, as he gloats over this power to his Cracker Barrel castmates, Marcia switches on his microphone, and his audience and allies in positions of power, realising they've been played for fools, completely abandon him.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Marcia goes from being the architect of Lonesome's rise to the overworked PA trying to prevent his fall; as Mel Miller tells her, she is "the little wheel of efficiency without which the great streamline express called Lonesome Rhodes plunges off the track and leaps to destruction." She deals with such crises as the fallout of his ill-considered outbursts and the sudden re-appearance of his estranged wife, all while Lonesome himself remains either unaware of or indifferent to the trouble he is causing.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: After "Lonesome" Rhodes starts poking fun at the mattress company whose ads sponsor Rhodes' show, the sponsors are about to withdraw their ads, until the audience starts burning mattresses in the street, which boosts their sales by 55%.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Would likely be a Downer Ending if not for Miller's media savvy analysis accompanying the whole thing; noting that Lonesome will likely be able to revive some of his career, but his days as a powerful icon are over, and while Marcia is still shaken from the ordeal, she is comforted mildly by Miller informing her she only proved stronger seeing Lonesome away.
  • Blackmail: Lonesome's estranged wife tells Marcia that she has no interest in taking the alcoholic, philandering Lonesome back into her life, but that if she isn't paid $3,000 per month in alimony starting immediately, she will go public with their story, potentially destroying his image. In the montage of Reaction Shots to Lonesome's Engineered Public Confession, she sighs that she knew he'd find a way to lose "her" money.
  • Call-Back: Lonesome shouting to Marcia at the end of the film is reminiscent of "HEY STELLA!", which makes sense since Elia Kazan directed A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • The Cameo: Numerous real-life media personalities of the era appear as themselves, including John Cameron Swayze, Bennett Cerf, Burl Ives, Walter Winchell, and Mike Wallace.
  • Companion Cube: When Marcia first finds Lonesome in an Arkansas jail, his only possession of value is his guitar, and he sings a song, "Mama Guitar", about how the instrument is his faithful companion through all the ups and downs his life has experienced. When he becomes a radio and television star, his guitar is almost everpresent.
  • Country Mouse: Rhodes' foray into the city to be on television comes with streaks of this. Once he's on the air he almost immediately breaks script to complain about the camera, and then broadens it to the attitude of the city and the people who live within.
  • Dartboard of Hate: The wall decorations in the writers' room for Lonesome's TV series include a picture of the man himself with the caption "Escape from Freedom"; the writers use it as a dartboard to vent their frustration at the thankless task of writing for the unappreciative Lonesome.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Mel Miller, the world-weary head writer for Rhodes' Cracker Barrel show. Whether it's the plight of the television writer, the way Lonesome uses and abuses the people who are catapulting him to the top (especially Marcia), or the evils of television in general, Mel has a sarcastic remark about anything - and, as with many of Walter Matthau's early roles, he is completely straight-faced in his delivery of said remarks.
    • Marcia has her moments:
      First Mrs. Rhodes: Larry... he thinks he has to take a bite out of every broad he comes across. Then he calls them a tramp, drops them, and there's all sort of psycho something-or-other. You know, I caught him red-handed with my best girlfriend. He broke my jaw.
      Marcia: It seems to be working quite effectively now.
  • Defector from Decadence: Mel tells Marcia that she has effectively become Lonesome's go-to companion when he needs to de-compress between bouts of excess, and that she deserves better. She realises he's right about her role in Lonesome's life, and she eventually develops the courage to walk away from him.
    Mel: Marcia, you're the locker room where he eases up after the fight — win or lose. You're the shock absorber for collisions with ex-wives, models, new wives, and assorted tramps. You're the little wheel without which the express called 'Lonesome Rhodes' plunges off the track and leaps to destruction.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Slipped in here and there by Kazan and Schulberg, just to give a somewhat less romanticized portrait of the South than most works at the time; for example, when we first meet "Uncle" J.B., the station manager of KGRK, he's getting his shoes shined by a black attendant that he jovially pats on the head like a dog. Lonesome bringing a black woman onto his show is also treated as a big deal. Which it was, at the time. Especially in the Deep South.
    Black TV Viewer: Helen, look what they're having on television now.
    Helen: It's about time!!
  • Dramatic Irony: Blissfully unaware that his insulting rant against his audience has gone out live on the air, Lonesome hurries to the elevator, where the operator tells him, "The Lonesome Rhodes Express, going down!" Over the floor lights lighting up in descending order to symbolise his plunging ratings, we are treated to a montage of the switchboard being flooded with calls from furious viewers while General Haynesworth threatens to withdraw his sponsorship (Joey assures him that his new discovery, Barry Mills, has all of Rhodes' appeal but none of his volatility, and will be a perfect replacement pitchman). By the time the elevator hits the ground floor, Lonesome bids some of his fellow network employees farewell with a snide "How's your ratings?" - and they simply smirk knowingly, having seen and heard everything.
  • Drunk with Power: The more attention Lonesome gets, the more arrogant he becomes, culminating in his Engineered Public Confession.
    Cracker Barrel Cast Member: You really sell that stiff as a man among men?
    Rhodes: Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got 'em like this... [clenches his fist slowly] You know what the public's like? A cage of guinea pigs. [shot of a stunned Haynesworth watching; Lonesome grins and waves to camera, sarcastically] Good night, you stupid idiots. [shot of an outraged Fuller, midway through dressing for the banquet] Good night, you miserable slobs. [further shots of shocked and/or angry viewers] They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers. [Mel, watching in his usual bar, makes a hasty exit as Lonesome begins singing a hymn]
  • Engineered Public Confession: Unbeknownst to Lonesome, Marcia takes control of the production booth to broadcast his speech in Drunk with Power live over the airwaves. Upon seeing that he is a Nice Character, Mean Actor, his audience and sponsors promptly desert him en masse.note 
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Lonesome is convinced that a rogue sound engineer switched on his microphone to broadcast his utter contempt for his audience across the airwaves, and that it couldn't possibly be Marcia, the only person he trusts absolutely. Mel has to persuade Marcia to visit Lonesome one last time to admit everything, or she'll never be truly rid of him.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When the soundman of The Cracker Barrel grumbles "Oh, if they ever heard how that psycho really talks!..." as he removes his headphones while Lonesome mocks Senator Fuller and the TV audience, thinking his microphone has been cut, Marcia gets the idea to let the audience hear exactly that: how little Lonesome really thinks of them.
  • Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit: Sheriff Bess is never actually seen in a white suit, but we can presume he has one, and he certainly fits the rest of the type. He manages to be attractive even so, and he and Marcia were unofficially engaged before Lonesome came along.note 
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Marcia first interviews Rhodes for A Face in the Crowd, she discreetly switches on and hides her microphone without telling him, as she wants to capture him at his most naturally charming and charismatic. At the film's climax, she once again switches on a microphone without telling Rhodes, but now to capture him at his most naturally vicious and egotistical.
    • When Rhodes and Marcia board the train from Pickett to Memphis, Rhodes mutters, "Am I glad to shake that dump!" Marcia is shocked, but Rhodes laughs and says he was just kidding, and that she shouldn't believe everything he says. In the film's climax, he makes an even more venomous two-faced aside, and this time, Marcia knows he is not joking and decides to let his audience hear how stupid and gullible he really thinks they are by switching on his microphone without his knowledge.
    • At one point, Rhodes asks Marcia, "What would I do without you?" Marcia playfully replies, "One of these days, you may find out." At the end of the film, she turns her back on him once and for all.
  • From Bad to Worse: Rhodes, before and especially after his downfall. As his power and influence grow, he becomes ever more abusive to the people around him, including Marcia, Joey, and the production staff on The Cracker Barrel, and he throws Betty Lou out of his penthouse after catching her in Joey's arms (because Joey owns 51% of Lonesome's brand, he cannot be fired). When Marcia switches on his microphone so that his nationwide television audience hear that he thinks they're a horde of morons who will do whatever he tells them to do, thereby sinking his career in a single evening, he spirals into a drunken, raving breakdown as he is confronted with the reality that he will never again be the powerful media figure he once was.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Lonesome Rhodes begins the film in an Arkansas jail, an alcoholic drifter with little more than the clothes on his back and a guitar. Thanks to his exposure on Marcia Jeffries' radio show and a series of breaks that introduce him to wider and wider audiences, he becomes a powerful political demagogue... and the power goes straight to his head.
  • Girl Friday: As Lonesome rises up the media ladder, Marcia becomes something of a personal assistant and companion to him, and he even calls her his "little ol' gal Friday... not to mention Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday" when he asks for transportation for the two of them to Memphis as part of his broadcasting contract.
  • Hitler Cam: Used effectively on Lonesome when he's giving his deranged, drunken speech in his penthouse late in the film, clearly meant to be a Does This Remind You of Anything? nod to Hitler himself.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Marcia spends a long time waiting in vain for Lonesome Rhodes to propose to her. He actually does propose to her once, but shortly after that she gets a visit from the wife he never told her about. After his divorce is taken care of, she bluffs to a guard that she's his fiancée, only to find out that he's just eloped with Betty Lou Fleckum.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Well, horrible New York in the early years of TV, but the idea is the same: spoiled, egotistical on-camera talent; writers treated like cattle; predatory agents, executives, and advertisers looking to make as much money as they can off the stars on their payroll; and no-one is even remotely the same person when the cameras are off as when they are on.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • The sudden re-appearance of the former Mrs. Rhodes and the confirmation of Lonesome's serial philandering coincides with the broadcast of an episode of A Face in the Crowd in which Lonesome, backed by a trio reminiscent of the Lennon Sisters, sings of the virtues of "An Old-Fashioned Marriage".
    • "Mama Guitar" sings about how the titular instrument beats a woman every time, sang by a pre-recorded Rhodes as the current Rhodes sets his sights on his next romantic fling.
  • I Am the Noun: At the height of Lonesome's drunken delivery of his planned speech for Fighters for Fuller, he combines this trope with Third-Person Person by roaring, "Lonesome Rhodes is the people! The people is Lonesome Rhodes!"
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Budd Schulberg's A Face in the Crowd.
  • Ironic Nickname: As part of Worthington Fuller's re-branding at Lonesome's hands, he is given the nickname "Curly" Fuller, even though he has lost so much hair that he has resorted to a combover.
  • It's All About Me: When Rhodes offers Marcia 10% of his share, she angrily reminds him that it was her idea which was responsible for his stardom, and demands in writing that she be treated as an equal partner.
  • It's All My Fault: After orchestrating Lonesome's downfall to atone for orchestrating his rise, with all the trouble it has brought, a despondent Marcia says to Mel, "It's my fault - if I'd only left him in that jail in Pickett."
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Subverted when Marcia reads a telegram from Lonesome saying he is in Mexico to finalise his divorce from his first wife, the implication being that he will marry Marcia when he returns to New York; Mel tells her, "I suppose I should be a gentleman and wish you every happiness. I think I'll just be a cad and hope he chokes on a Vitajex pill."
  • Lady Drunk: In the third act, after Marcia and Lonesome have broken up romantically but she has stayed on as his Girl Friday, Mel catches her in a bar late at night, drinking. Mel notes that she never did that before. Marcia is both broken-hearted and guilt-ridden over facilitating the rise of Lonesome the demagogue.
  • Laugh Track: Shortly after Rhodes moves to New York, he and Joey come up with the idea for a "reaction machine" that plays recorded laughter, applause, and cheering. In the film's final scene, the machine, operated by Lonesome's friend Beany, is his sole "audience" for the speech he planned to give at the banquet.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: When Larry Rhodes won't tell Marcia his first name during her jail radio show remote, she spontaneously dubs him "Lonesome", which ends up sticking.
  • Majority-Share Dictator: When Lonesome catches Joey having an affair with Betty Lou, he fires Joey—only for Joey to shoot back that Lonesome can't fire him, because Joey owns 51% of Lonesome Rhodes Enterprises. So Lonesome dumps Betty Lou instead, noting that she doesn't own 51% of the stock.
  • Male Gaze: The drum majorette scene features numerous shots from what is clearly Lonesome's perspective. Griffith said years later that the direction that Kazan gave him for that scene was to mentally "fuck her" and his lecherous, leering smile was the result. Lampshaded when J.B. catches him with a lingering smile at one of the girls.
    J.B.: She's only seventeen...
    Lonesome: (Composes himself; solemnly) She looks like a very sweet child.
  • The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: Both Kazan and Schulberg were interested in exploring how this happens and offering a Deconstruction in this film, showing how anti-establishment rhetoric, even that which, as in the case of Rhodes, originally came from a genuine and sincere place can easily be co-opted and managed by state and corporations for the benefit of the establishment. Schulberg noted that he was inspired by the fact that several famous comics like Will Rogers in The '30s came to support New Deal and FDR and other legislation through their populist pieces even if privately they disagreed with those same policies and were more conservative than they let on.
  • Metafictional Title: A Face in the Crowd is the name of Marcia's radio programme at the beginning of the film, and it later becomes the name of Lonesome's radio and TV showcases before he comes up with The Cracker Barrel.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Lonesome kicks Betty Lou out of his apartment and tries to find solace in Marcia's arms, he tells her that he believes he has the power over his audience to rally behind Fuller, who has promised to create a new Cabinet post for him. As Marcia absorbs this, Lonesome mumbles that he has her to thank for plucking him from obscurity and giving him the power he now has over his audience. Marcia gets a horrified look on her face as she realises that he's right, and that she's effectively created a monster; she promptly flees the apartment and goes missing until the next Cracker Barrel broadcast.
  • New Media Are Evil: This movie is very negative about the effect of television on the public. Mel says that the power television can give someone who appears on it would take a saint to resist, and Lonesome is no saint; the worst aspects of his personality come flooding out once he makes the transition from radio to television.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Walter Winchell appears briefly giving some commentary about Senator Fuller, a presidential hopeful who's getting mixed up with Lonesome, followed by a young Mike Wallace grilling Fuller about the meeting he had with Lonesome and Lonesome's advertising agency.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Lonesome again, though he didn't begin that way. Inversely, Griffith in real life was so disturbed by the effects that playing Rhodes had on him, that it was decades before he agreed to play another villain.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Lonesome Rhodes, at least in his public persona, appears to be something of an amalgam of Will Rogers and Arthur Godfrey (both of whom are mentioned by name in the film). Godfrey had already inspired the similar 1956 film The Great Man, directed by and starring Jose Ferrer.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Pickett, Arkansas, the town in which Marcia discovers Lonesome, is loosely based on the town used for location shooting: Piggott, Arkansas.
  • No Indoor Voice: Lonesome Rhodes frequently shouts at the top of his lungs (his laugh is particularly loud), especially when he's had a few drinks, much to the annoyance of people nearby who are trying to hold their own conversations.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The final shot of the film shows Marcia and Mel being driven away in a taxi as Lonesome continues to shout "COME BACK!" from the roof of his hotel. As their taxi drives off into the distance, the words "THE END" appear.
  • The Only One I Trust: Because she was the one who plucked him from obscurity as he served a weeklong sentence for drunk and disorderly misbehavior in a northeast Arkansas jail and put him in front of an audience, Lonesome repeatedly tells Marcia that she is the only person he really trusts. However, he breaks her own trust in him so often that eventually she has enough and tries to walk away from his life, but not before breaking his trust in her by spontaneously deciding to broadcast his contempt for his supposedly beloved audience over the airwaves, causing his career to nosedive.
  • Oops! I Forgot I Was Married: Lonesome has already proposed to Marcia when his estranged wife shows up with Blackmail on her mind. Lonesome explains to a skeptical Marcia that the judge who oversaw their divorce was later jailed for fraud, and the one-time Mrs. Rhodes got the idea that this meant their divorce was invalidated, but that he is planning to re-finalise their divorce by darting across the border to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
  • Parody Commercial: The film includes a montage showing the Browning, Schlagel & McNally agency's new TV campaign for Vitajex once Lonesome Rhodes is recruited as their spokesman. Most of the commercials play up the Sex for Product angle, with highlights including a nightwear-clad woman on a bed speaking in a breathy voice about buying her boyfriend a ten-year supply, and a cartoon pig taking a Vitajex pill and briefly transforming into a wolf before sweeping his previously indifferent girlfriend off her trotters.
  • Pet the Dog: The first thing Lonesome does with his Memphis TV show is hold a fundraiser for a homeless black woman. Pretty daring for the Deep South during The '50s! When he hits the big time, his charity fundraisers become more cynical.
  • Photo Op with the Dog: In his first image consultation meeting with Senator Fuller, Lonesome asks the politician if he has any pets. Fuller says he and his wife have a Siamese cat, but Lonesome isn't sold on the idea, and says his own audience loves dogs, and that Fuller should consider getting one and posing with it in public appearances.
    Lonesome: My public love dogs. One pitch with a hound is worth ten thousand words. That mutt didn't do Roosevelt any harm, did it? Or Dick Nixon either!
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Said by Rhodes to Marcia several times when she gets sick of his hubris and threatens to walk out of his life; it is not until after engineering his downfall that she has the courage to refuse his pleas.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: At the end of the film, Rhodes angrily dismisses his servants, all of whom are black, calling them "dressed-up black monkeys." This is in contrast to earlier on, when he holds a telethon to help a black woman who lost her house.
  • Pompous Political Pundit: Lonesome is already well-established as a pompous TV entertainer when he decides to use his popularity to bolster Senator Worthington Fuller's ailing political campaign.
    Mel: I'll say one thing for him! He's got the courage of his ignorance.
  • Precision F-Strike: During the climax, after Lonesome has inadvertently told his audience what he really thinks of them on the air, we see the reactions of different viewers, including a group of hard-hatted workmen in a bar. One of whom offers this comment (with the offending word dubbed out, but clearly visible on his lips):
    Workman: We'll f______ fix you, Jack.
  • Rags to Riches: Rhodes goes from a drifter with one spare shirt and a guitar to his name to occupying the top two floors of a luxurious New York hotel.
  • Reaction Shot: During Rhodes' Engineered Public Confession, we see quick flashes of the shocked and/or outraged reactions of many of the characters in the film, including General Haynesworth, Senator Fuller, Mel Miller, and Rhodes' first wife.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: When Lonesome Rhodes is first asked to read an advertisement for Luffler Mattresses on his Memphis TV show, he demonstrates his contempt for this part of the job by not just delivering the stiffest reading possible, but actually reading the punctuation marks aloud.
    Rhodes: [reading from a crumpled piece of paper] "Friends, comma, why not invest in sleep insurance, question mark. That is what you will be doing when you buy your... Luffler Easy-Rest mattress, period."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered by Mel Miller to Lonesome following his downfall.
    Rhodes: Listen, I'm not through yet. You know what's gonna to happen to me?
    Mel: Suppose I tell you exactly what's gonna happen to you. You're gonna be back in television. Only it won't be quite the same as it was before. There'll be a reasonable cooling-off period and then somebody will say: "Why don't we try him again in a inexpensive format. People's memories aren't too long." And you know, in a way, he'll be right. Some of the people will forget, and some of them won't. Oh, you'll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top 10. Maybe not even in the top 35. [Marcia frantically presses the elevator button, desperate to get away] But you'll have a show. It just won't be quite the same as it was before. Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody'll ask: "Whatever happened to, ah, whatshisname? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that? Oh by the way, have you seen, ah, Barry Mills? I think he's the greatest thing since Will Rogers."
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: invoked In-Universe, after Rhodes' ugly opinions of the audience are leaked out to the public, he quickly loses his endorsement deals. While it's likely he'll revive his career, Miller notes that he'll never get as powerful as he used to be, and will more than likely be forgotten after a while.
  • Rule of Symbolism: After Lonesome's opinions are leaked, footage of people reacting is interposed with the buttons on an elevator lighting up, going down. This directly contrasts his earlier rising popularity, which was represented by a chart of Vitajex's sales; in both cases, a diagetic showing of numbers rising or falling with Lonesome's popularity.
  • Signature Laugh: Lonesome's loud, full-throated "HAW! HAW! HAW!" becomes an integral part of his image both on camera and off. While they are drinking and laughing together in a bar, Marcia says, "You put your whole self into that laugh, don't you?" Depending on the context, it can sound either genial or malevolent.
  • Slasher Smile: Ever expect to see one from Andy Griffith? Holy shit.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Lonesome Rhodes becomes massively popular as a pitchman for Vitajex, a pill that's basically just a mix of aspirin, caffeine and sugar,note  which he touts as an energy booster.note 
  • Social Climber: "Lonesome" Rhodes starts out in an Arkansas jail for drunkenness and gets bailed out by Marcia Jeffries who discovers his down-to-earth entertainment talent. After engaging in Biting-the-Hand Humor which pokes fun at the mattress company who sponsors Rhodes' program, Rhodes' pitches increased sales by 55%, and Rhodes recognizes his newfound persuasive power. From there, he starts promoting energy supplements as male enhancement supplements. Meanwhile, he hopes to improve the presidential prospects of Senator Worthington Fuller. After witnessing Rhodes berate his staff, Marcia regrets turning him into a celebrity after she sees what he's become, and leaves the microphone on to broadcast Rhodes' contempt for the people, and his once illustrious career takes a disastrous nosedive.
  • Something Else Also Rises: A Charles Atlas-style animated Parody Commercial features a male pig who, after taking a Vitajex pill, suddenly perks up, with his previously curled-up tail standing on end, accompanied a cartoon "boing" sound. (The other thing on the rise, by the way, is the rating thermometer.)
  • Telethon: Goes at least seventeen hours, but a sign held by one of the crippled children shows that it's also a commercial for Lonesome's sponsor.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: After seeing Lonesome's Engineered Public Confession on TV in his usual bar, Mel knows immediately that Marcia is the engineer of the confession, and he rushes to the studio to find her. When he does, she is staring off into the far distance as the reality of what she has created, and what she has just destroyed, is still sinking in.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Lonesome was never the nicest person around but he comes across at first as someone who isn't necessarily a bad guy, just understandably cynical and rough around the edges after a miserable life, and is capable of genuine kindness. His later success and fame turn him into a selfish, narcissistic monster who cares about no one but himself.
  • Trophy Wife: Lonesome marries the 17-year-old Betty Lou as soon as the ink is dry on his divorce from his first wife. Marcia views her as representing Rhodes' audience "all wrapped up with yellow ribbons into one cute little package." At first, he proudly gushes to his fans about how her body "keeps on catching my eye," but as time passes she appears less and less on his show, until he has her unceremoniously dismissed "like any performer on my show that flops."
  • Viewers Are Morons: Lonesome comes to believe this by the film's climax. His contempt for the audience who will do or think exactly as he says knows no bounds, and in the speech that forms his Engineered Public Confession, he even uses the word "morons" to describe them, joking to his castmates that the public are so gullible, they'll believe anything he says, and adds that they're "a cage of guinea pigs" and "a lot of trained seals" who "flap their flippers" when he tosses them a fish. Unfortunately for him, whatever their faults, his viewers don't like to be told that they're morons.
  • Villainous Breakdown: As a result of Rhodes's on-air blunder, the guests for his banquet to launch Fighters for Fuller all cancel with obviously fake excuses (or without even sending an excuse). He calls Marcia in a frenzy and begs the waiters hired for the banquet to tell him that they'll still love him before eventually throwing them all out and telling Marcia that he'll jump off his balcony if she doesn't come to him. Sick of his manipulation, she tells him to jump, and although Mel persuades her to go to him and admit that she was the one who broadcast his Viewers Are Morons rant to his audience, when she arrives, Lonesome's breakdown is complete as he is roaring drunk and shouting the speech he planned to give to an audience consisting solely of his friend Beany and the "reaction machine" he devised.
  • We Can Rule Together: After kicking Betty Lou out, Lonesome heads over to Marcia's apartment, and as he enthuses over his plans for Fuller's campaign for the presidency and the Cabinet post Fuller has promised to create especially for him - Secretary for National Morale - he says that he will be the power behind the president, and Marcia will be the power behind him. Marcia's every line for the rest of the scene effectively translates to "My God, What Have I Done?".
  • Writers Suck: Mel Miller and the other writers on Lonesome's payroll have grown cynical from the lack of respect they are shown, not just from Lonesome (who is uninterested in staying on script) but from the rest of the network. A sign on the door of their cramped office reads "Classics adapted while you wait (We also take in laundry)", and they greet jokes at their expense - even those they make themselves - with unison mirthless laughter.
    Mel: Here you see the lepers of the great television industry. Men without faces. They even slide our paychecks under the door so they can pretend we're not here.