Did they know? Did the audience going to the movie theater in 1957 know that Elia Kazan had stumbled upon at 30 year old man who was about to become one of the most beloved, most recognizable man in America for half a century? Did Kazan even know?
I wonder if that is why he selected Andy Griffith for the role of “Lonesome Rhodes”, a drunk, “demigod”, ranting hobo who spouts his opinions to all of America — basically the complete opposite of Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Maybe this is the past 55 years influencing my mind, but I first read the short story “Your Arkansas Traveler”, which was also written by the screenwriter for the movie (though there are several significant differences between the two), and then I looked the film up on IMDB to see who the actors were. That’s when I became very hesitant to watch this film. In my mind, Andy Griffith was nothing like Lonesome, and never could be.
I think that is what’s great about actors – good ones – they can help separate the viewers from their perceived personalities. Even though in 1957, Andy Griffith was just a no-name actor being introduced to the world.
But I digress, instead, I wanted to talk about how relevant this story still is to today’s society. In my class before we watched the film, we talked about how Lonesome is similar to several current political and media personalities, especially Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and Glenn Beck.
Sarah Palin, I can see. She’s from Alaska, which minus the tundra, is a fairly rural area. She swooped into DC with her maverick style, her quirky sayings, and down-to-earth ability to connect with average Americans. But the reference to Glenn Beck isn’t one to be ignore, in fact, even an MSNBC (disclaimer: Fox News’ bitter rival) anchor called Beck “Lonesome Rhodes” because of his power, relative ignorance and his ability to connect with millions.
I thought it was particularly interesting in the scene where Lonesome is trying to help the governor with his presidency campaign, the phrases “Time for change” and “the mess in Washington” were both said. Why do I feel like I heard both of those at least a hundred times during the election season? As Americans, we always want someone to tell it to us straight, like Lonesome, but instead we get politicians telling us the same thing over and over again.
There were several differences between the short story and the movie, which I found slightly surprising because both had the same writer.
For example: (spoiler alert) Lonesome lives at the end of the movie, yelling off the balcony for Marcia. I definitely had some flashbacks to “STELLLLLLAAAA”, which shouldn’t be surprising because both films had the same director. Because of this, I believe it was a deliberate choice.
I also thought it was interesting how sexual the relationship between Lonesome and Marcia was in the film, something that was really ambiguous in the short story (Marcia even calls him a father figure). In the story, Marcia seems so career driven, but in the film, when she thinks she’s going to lose Lonesome, she sleeps with him. It’s not the character I expected.
I enjoyed the film significantly more than the short story, and it was actually really enjoyable to see Andy Griffith in a role I wasn’t used to.