Filmsite Movie Review
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Rhodes' Sponsorship by The Luffler Mattress Company - His Mocking of the Ad:

Later that night, Marcia and agent Steiner burst into 'Lonesome's' hotel room, awakened him, and she told him the news: "Lonesome, you should see how the money's pourin' in! They need five girls to count it." Steiner was excited that Rhodes had now acquired a client - a mattress company - it would sponsor his show and cover his $1,000 a week salary.

A wheelbarrow full of coins (quarters) was brought on to the stage during his next TV show (before a live audience), as Rhodes dug his hand into the money ($4,635.25) that he had raised and exclaimed:

Sure is prettier music than a cigar-box guitar. There's 18,541 of these things so far, and we ain't hardly started yet. Miss Cooley says thank you. You're good people. You folks are buildin' a house. Ain't nothin' in this world you can't do when you let the best side of you take over.

(To his producer)
Oh, I see my old clock-watcher goin' this a-way. He wants me to make sure I leave time for the commercial. You didn't know I had a sponsor, did ya? Neither did I till they woke me up this morning.

Rhodes walked over to a Luffler Mattress Company's display, with a picture of his sponsoring company's president S.J. Luffler ("The Mattress Aristocrat"). He leaned over in front of Luffler's photo and joked: "He's a good-lookin' scoundrel, ain't he?" He arrogantly mocked the sponsor by not reading the script for the company's prepared mattress ad, and substituting instead two other notes (a horse racing tip, and a love note) crumpled in his pocket:

  • "Johnny Longshot's tip for the daily double."
  • "Lonesome, darling, you ain't forgettin' your little Arkansas Annie?"

When he finally found the right advertisement script for the mattress commercial, he mocked its message:

  • "Friends, comma, why not invest in sleep insurance, question mark? That is what you will be doin' when you buy your Luffler Easy Rest Mattress, period."

    "Comes in six tasty flavors...That's our next commercial."

Then, Rhodes ad-libbed his own down-home version of the Luffler bed advertisement - and suggested sleeping on the floor instead:

Personally, when I'm dog-tired, I can sleep on the floor. One of the best night's sleep I ever had was in a boxcar. They say that a firm mattress is better for your spine. But now, if you're gonna follow that all the way, ain't it just better to just go ahead and sleep on the floor? Hmm. But if some of you softies insist on sleepin' on a bed, I reckon you can do worse than a Luffler Easy Rest. End of commercial. Maybe also the end of Lonesome Rhodes.

Steiner had to use damage control to calm the infuriated company owner Mr. Luffler (Charles Irving), who insisted that if Rhodes didn't read the scripted ads properly (without added commentary), he would be fired: "He says he's got a loophole in his contract, and if you kid his commercial once more, he's going to walk right through it."

Shortly later, slimy and opportunistic, self-proclaimed "schlock-meister" Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa), Luffler's "office boy," congratulated Rhodes on an impromptu plug with a reward - and promised future endorsement bribes:

I got you a month's food ticket at the White Owl for the plug you gave them this mornin'...All you gotta do is slip in a remark, innocent-like, about one of these products, and they pay off in kind. You know, a case of beer, free drinks at the Yellow Rose Cafe, all that jazz. I tell you, boy, it mounts up.

Marcia was unsure if Rhodes would be violating his paid advertisers: "Isn't that illegal, stealing time from regular sponsors?" but the unethical DePalma reassured him: "Illegal? Honey, nothing's illegal if they don't catch you."

Later on camera in front of a live audience, Rhodes delivered a home-spun version of the Luffler mattress ad. He struggled to adapt the script for the commercial, then rejected it and put it into his own words. He then grabbed his guitar to strum an irreverent tune about breaking his contract with the company:

Mr. Luffler told me he don't like me to talk nasty about his mattress. Shucks, I said you could get a good night's sleep on one of them. If you was real tired. There I go again. But I just can't seem to get my mouth around some of them things they wanted me to say. Well, I'll try. 'And now a message of importance.'
(He dropped the paper with the commercial message)
Now, you good people ain't so dumb you don't know what's important. Atom bomb's important, and things like that. I don't reckon a Luffler mattress will break your back, but it sure ain't no world-shakin' message. Well, just in case you won't be seeing me again. Hey, fellas, come on. Here's a little song to remember me by. Give me a "E."

(singing an impromptu, ad-libbed song)
Well, good-bye, Mr. Luffler And thanks for the ride
I like to have your money But I'd rather have my pride
On these corny old commercials We just cannot agree
So you can tear up my contract Make a free man of me
Gonna be a - Free man - In the morning
Free man - In the morning -
Free man In the morning
Or know the reason why.

A cutaway to Mr. Luffler, watching the broadcast, prompted him to order: "Get me my lawyer."

Marcia's Romantic Offer to Keep Rhodes from Quitting:

A mid-distance camera perspective viewed Rhodes in the hallway in a hotel corridor in Memphis early the next morning. Outside Marcia's room (# 1008), he bid her goodbye. She answered the door while he annnounced his departure: "Just thought I'd tell you I'm gonna hit the road." He showed her Luffler's written demand to fire him unless Rhodes showed him his scripts "in advance." When Marcia begged him to stay, Rhodes was exasperated and refused to comply:

There ain't no scripts. It's just me...
No, I'm not my brother's keeper....
No, I don't kowtow to no mattress company.

He was proud of his resistance to the corporate boss: "Well... we shook 'em up a little bit. Got a ride for our money." To keep him from quitting the show and leaving town for good, as he strolled away down the hallway, Marcia begged him to reconsider and beckoned him back to her hotel room. She kissed him in front of her open door, as he dropped his suitcase with a loud thump onto the hallway floor. She led him inside - while grabbing onto his shirt with an outstretched arm, by backing into her room, while he stuttered:

Did I call you a cold fish, Marcia? Marcia. It's short for 'marshmallow.' My marshmallow.

He kissed her again before shutting the door - presumably to bed down with her and have sex for the first time (off-screen).

Revolt Against the Luffler Company - New Opportunities for Lonesome in New York:

That same morning, Lonesome's rabid fans picketed outside the Luffler office building - they were protesting with signs, such as:

  • "We'll Sleep on the Floor with LONESOME."
  • "Keep LONESOME a 'Free Man' on TV"
  • "DOWN with Luffler, UP with Lonesome"
  • "No Sleep for Luffler"

One man stuffed a rolled-up mattress into a sidewalk trash container, and another woman set it on fire. Luffler's 'office boy' Joey DePalma was summoned during the outdoor riot into Luffler's inner office, where he heard a report from one of the advertising managers that sales of Luffler's mattresses had actually increased by 55%: "I must say that a 55-percent jump in sales is quite a painkiller." Luffler asked Joey for his opinion of the firing of Lonesome: "Do you think I acted hasty in the firing?" He responded with a self-serving answer: "If it were my product, I wouldn't let anybody ridicule it."

Joey DePalma's False Claim to Represent Lonesome Rhodes to a NYC Ad Agency:

Seeing an opportunity to take advantage of Lonesome's ability to engender sales due to his non-traditional commercial pitches, Joey was prompted to call Browning, Schlagel and McNally, the "biggest" TV advertising agency in New York City. Once on the phone line, he falsely claimed that he "represented" Lonesome Rhodes. Although at first doubtful, the advertisers realized there might be promise for the little-known Rhodes outside the Memphis area: "Hey, He topped both CBS and NBC down there." Joey pitched Rhodes to one of the TV department representatives at the ad agency:

Yeah, hello, I just thought I oughta let you know that Lonesome Rhodes is being flooded with offers. Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah, if you happen to be interested, 5:00 o'clock is our deadline.

One of the secretaries at the agency remarked to the ad representative how she knew of Lonesome: "I caught that show on my vacation. He's a living doll." Joey also phoned E.B.D. & O. in New York City - to begin acquiring competing bids from other ad agencies.

Meanwhile, Mel knocked on Marcia's Memphis hotel room (# 1008), but there was no response. He noticed Lonesome's suitcase still sitting in the hallway. As he was leaving, Joey rushed to the same door and pounded on it. He awakened Lonesome (Marcia was not in the room, or was hiding?), exclaiming that he had secured his destiny by acquiring his own show on a national network. Joey had also asserted himself as Lonesome's New York agent:

DePalma: Honey child, I sold your show...(He kissed Lonesome's face) To the big time. Ever hear of Browning, Schlagel and McNally? No, you wouldn't know. THE advertising company. Boy, I got them bidding against the Cutner Agency, MCA.. And a dozen others you wouldn't know. Now look, BS and M wants you for The Vitajex Hour. Eight o'clock, coast-to-coast. I told them we'd let them know at 1700 hours. Boy, I tell you, we're on to New York....They asked if you had a New York agent. Would you like to meet your New York agent?
Lonesome: A bum out of jail in Pickett, Arkansas, and a Memphis office boy!

(singing) Hey! I'm a roving gambler Ramble all around
Whenever I see a deck of cards I lay my money down...
Whenever I see a deck of cards I lay my money down I lay my money down.

Rhodes' Pitch About Revitalizing the NYC Ad Agency's Promotion of Vitajex:

During a conference-meeting of the BS and M ad agency in NYC, advertising director Mr. Macey (Paul McGrath) announced the dismal results of their recent campaign to promote an energy supplement known as Vitajex, supported by the company's owner - conservative businessman General Haynesworth. In the 4th quarter of the agency's ad campaign, expenditures had increased to $300K while the market share dropped from 10% to only 7%:

Now, in the last quarter...we have spent over $300,000 of General Haynesworth's money to make this country Vitajex-conscious. And all we've succeeded in doing next chart, please - is dropping from ten percent of the market to seven.

In the session's product group report, the agency's research chemist Dr. Wiley (Fred Stewart) described how Vitajex was simply an inert energy pill (with just very common ingredients) that had no real therapeutic effect - he displayed a pie chart for the audience to see:

Vitajex has a few grains of aspirin. A little sugar that might give you some energy. But, well, frankly, General or no General, we have nothing to sell....It won't kill you, if that's what you mean. I'd say it's relatively harmless, like a lot of the old patent medicines.

  • 5 grains inert matter (324 mg)
  • 3 1/2 grains aspirin (227 mg)
  • 2 1/2 grains caffeine (162 mg)
  • 6 grains dextrose (389 mg)

After dismissing the embarrassing comments from Dr. Wiley and striking his comments from the record, Mr. Macey turned to the TV department representatives who were recommending the popular new star Lonesome Rhodes. Macey advised them otherwise: "I think we need - a dignified sell. I'd like to see a 15-minute participation on the Ed Murrow show." One of the TV department representatives, Jim Collier (Alexander Kirkland) interrupted with news that Lonesome had been summoned to New York to demonstrate his ability to "sell."

Joey dePalma, Marcia, and Lonesome brashly strode into the meeting - Lonesome gushed about how he would revitalize their vitamin product:

Howdy. I come to help you sell these little kidney pills, whatever the heck they are.

Collier defended the boisterous and brash Lonesome, who insulted Mr. Macey as "Mr. Fuzzy-Lip" before he described its serious viability: "Vitajex is the sixth sister in the international drug family. They're even getting ready to put out a smaller pill and to cut the..."

Lonesome, the consummate con-artist, interjected with his new sales pitch for the innocuous, poorly-performing product - he would promote it as a Viagra-like pill or sexual libido-booster. He suggested changing its color. Then, after chewing on a handful of the pills, he laughed menacingly and comically, claiming he had undergone a "startling change"

Look at these poor little white pills you're trying to peddle. Look kind of pale. There's no charge to 'em. Hey, I got an idea. Let's make 'em yellow. Yellow's the color of sunshine and energy. Gives a fella that get-up-and-go that sets him up solid with the ladies. You get the idea? Like this, uh: 'If you wanna be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, why, just gobble up a handful of Vitajex, and your battery's charged. Watch. Ahh! Ha ha! Whoo-wee! I am ready! I mean, I'm in the mood! My personality undergoes a startling change!

He threatened to race after (sexually assault) two of the female assistants who fled from the room:

  • Denise (Lois Chandler), one of the secretaries
  • Miss Murray (Carolyn Craig), a stenographer who he called a "little redheaded filly!"

He further bragged about the benefits of the male enhancement product and how as a pitchman, he could boost their slumping sales:

That's what Vitajex does to me, and I ain't even swallowed them yet. And you college geniuses want dignity on your program. Back where I come from, if a fella looks too dignified, we figure he's lookin' to steal your watch. I'll move your merchandise.

Inspired, he began to sing a song - the "Vitajex Jingle":

Oh, Vitajex - Whatcha doin' to me? (Joey: Voom, voom, voom, voom.)
Oh, Vitajex - Whatcha doin' to me? (Joey: Voom, voom, voom, voom.)
You fill me full of ECSTASY (Joey: Voom, voom, voom, voom.)
Oh, Vitajex - Whatcha doin' to me?...

Rhodes' New Employment in New York City - Hosting 'The Vitajex Hour' Show With a New Ad Campaign:

After a dissolve, Rhodes was suddenly performing live before an audience in a FBN-TV studio. The new ad campaign for Vitajex was in full swing:

  • Rhodes strummed the Vitajex theme song on his guitar while three beautiful young women in bathing suits were hip-swinging and also singing the jingle before an audience:

    "Vitajex, whatcha doin' to me? You fill me full of ooh and ecstasy. Vitajex puts the gleam in your eye....You fill me full of ooh and ecstasy."

  • Lonesome acted in a BEFORE and AFTER sequence about the effects of Vitajex:

    BEFORE: In front of a blank backdrop, a disembodied hand fed the haggard and slouched Lonesome a Vitajex pill.
    An animated image (a diagram of a cross-section of the digestive system) followed the pill's descent into his stomach.

    AFTER: A mini-bomb exploded as the pill dissolved, and Lonesome was transformed into a man with vitality before a sparkling backdrop.

  • Testimonials:
    • Sales results: A chart showed a precipitous rise in ratings, and a sales increase of about 65%.
    • White-coated Dr. Wiley pitched the supplemental energy product: "And each pill contains 97 units of energy-giving endrocaine"
    • Lonesome also asserted: "That's why Vitajex gives you that get-up-and-go."

  • Animated black and white cartoon:
    • A pig was rejected by a white-bikinied female on a beach.
    • Ad Announcer: "Do you have trouble with your girl? Does she look elsewhere? Here's how Vitapig solved his problem."
    • After injesting a pill, the dejected pig transformed into a big and bad muscle-bound wolf with an upright or erect tail, and the girl swooned into his arms.

  • The Sex Appeal of the Product:
    • Lonesome was surrounded and kissed by the threesome of the singing chorus girls.
    • He gave a brief testimonial: "See what I mean?"
    • A blonde Marilyn Monroe type purred from her bed and advocated Vitajex for her male lover:
  • Blonde: Why don't you take Vitajex like Lonesome Rhodes does.
    Ad Announcer: She's talking about the new large economy size.
    Blonde: (she gestured toward a giant bottle of 100 tablets on her bedside table and turned out the light) I bought my boyfriend a ten-year supply.
    Ad Announcer: And now, the soft sell....Keep your eye on the rating....Now, the hard sell.

During the ad, General Haynesworth phoned in his praise for the new approach for advertising his product:

I've just seen Lonesome what's-his-name on the television, and I like him.

The hyperbolic ad campaign was phenomenally successful with the gullible American public, with sales and ratings charts (39.8) both exploding with skyrocketing increases.

General Haynesworth - A Political Backer and Promoter of Lonesome:

The nervous Vitajex ad director Mr. Macey cautioned conservative industrialist, businessman and powerful Vitajex company owner General Haynesworth (Percy Waram) at his estate about the riskiness of Lonesome's character and unpredictability:

General, I-I'm willing to put myself on record. I say he's a risk. Uncooperative and unpredictable. Why, we've spent tens of thousands of dollars to find out the key words like 'bracing' and 'zestful.' Rhodes has the audacity to tear our copy to shreds right in front of the audience.

Lonesome, accompanied by DePalma and Marcia, made a loud entrance onto the lawn of the General's estate:

Lonesome: Afraid I make these Madison Avenue fellas kind of unhappy.
General: I'm not in the business to make those fellows happy. I'm in the business of putting the public in a frame of mind to buy Vitajex.

The General's house-guest - up-and-coming conservative politician Senator Worthington Fuller (Marshall Neilan), was being promoted to become the next president. Marcia knew of his reputation as the "last of the isolationists." The power-broker General was also interested in educating Lonesome to the political world, promoting him, and turning him into one of his political instruments as an opinion-influencer:

General: Rhodes, I want you to get to know people like that. I'd like to sort of take you under my wing and educate you.
Lonesome: Heh. Shucks, General, I'm just a country boy.
General: Young man, never forget Will Rogers. He was just a gum-chewing, rope-twirling cowboy. But he got to where he was telling off presidents and kings.
DePalma: General, my thinking is the second section of the same train.
General: I've always gone in for long-range planning. Right now, Lonesome is merely popular. Oh, very popular. But Lonesome Rhodes could be made into an influence, a wielder of opinion. An institution positively sacred to this country, like the Washington Monument. I suspect your idealistic young lady disagrees with me. But my study of history has convinced me that in every strong and healthy society from the Egyptians on, the mass had to be guided with a strong hand by a responsible elite. Let us not forget that in TV, we have the greatest instrument for mass persuasion in the history of the world.

The idealistic and more liberal-minded Marcia would undoubtedly disagree, according to the General. As a first step, the General considered putting Lonesome on the cover of LIFE MAGAZINE - and after a dissolve, a lengthy montage followed.

There were displays of recent magazines or newspapers, with full-page pictures of Lonesome on various covers, or with columns dedicated to him:

  • Look Magazine: "THE LEGEND OF A FOLK HERO"
  • New York Journal-American: "THE HAPPIEST YEARS OF MY LIFE - Lonesome's Own Story of His Mom and Pop"
  • Lonesome was presented with a new hybrid iris named after him (the "Oonus floratorum") by a horticultural lab society.
  • A battleship was christened the USS Rhodes.
  • A national snowy peak was dedicated as Mount Rhodes.
  • On New Years' Eve in New York, Rhodes was joyously reunited with his old pal Beanie (Rod Brasfield) from earlier days when he was a fellow drifter and jail cell-mate.
  • Rhodes also hosted a 17 hour marathon telethon for crippled children.
  • He was presented with a gold key to a two-floor penthouse at the peak of Sherry Towers, the "finest hotel" in New York City. DePalma congratulated him for his rapid ascent: "To the very top, boy!"

Rhodes' Adulation Turned to Restlessness - A Marriage Proposal to Marcia:

Late in the middle of one night, Lonesome (in a bathrobe) awakened Marcia by phoning her and asking for her to come over. He expressed his deep regret for agreeing to DePalma's suggestion that he live in the spacious penthouse office-apartment - where he felt displaced, isolated and surrounded by too-willing females and other sychphants - and threatened suicide:

Lonesome: I never should've let Joey sell me on the idea of livin' in a penthouse over the offices. Twenty-five rooms to be alone in. I feel like a shipwrecked fella on an island.
Marcia: Oh, Larry, I know that island. It's populated by a tribe of friendly girls.
Lonesome (distraught): Marcia, honey, do you believe me when I say it's a matter of life and death?...If you don't come, I'll dive off this balcony into the park, and I'm ten blocks from the lake.

As he was speaking to Marcia, his most recent girlfriend came over to him and kissed him on the cheek as she was leaving: "Call me soon, doll."

When Marcia arrived, she realized that he had been partying with a party-girl, and he reluctantly admitted with a downcast tone: "I had a girl up here tonight. I get restless. Well, I lied to you, but when it's over, I'm more lonely than I was before." He summoned her to the balcony, where they gazed down at the city - awash with TV antennas as far as the eye could see. On the soundtrack was a sad twangy tune, "Sittin' on Top of the World," as he affirmed to her that he was "gettin' in deep" and she was the only person that he could trust - and then he proposed marriage:

Lonesome: Look at all them TV aerials sticking up like branches down there. There's a whole forest of 'em from here to San Diego. All of 'em waitin' to hear what I got to say.
Marcia: Is that what you woke me up in the middle of the night for?
Lonesome: Marcia, what I'm tryin' to say is, all of them millions of people believin' in me, doin' what I tell 'em to, scares me. Honest. General and all them big shots tryin' to educate me.
Marcia: Educate you or use you?
Lonesome: That's it, see? The General says our country needs me. I'm supposed to be an influence. That's mighty tall grass, Marcia. We're gettin' in deep, Marcia. A thousand times deeper than we ever dreamed when we were startin' out in Arkansas. I know on the set, I'm beginnin' to act like I just ate the Western Hemisphere for breakfast. But then, down here in the boiler room, I know I need advice. Not the kind I get from Joey or the Madison Avenue high-domes who say 'gesundheit' before I even pucker up to sneeze. No. And now, when I'm comin' to the top of the mountain, I need you, because you level with me. You're my lifeline to truth, and... Well, marry me, Marcia - will ya? That's what I called you over here for. Can't keep anything alive up here. (He snapped off a dead rose stem) Dust in this city kills everythin'.
Marcia: Larry, don't play with me. Don't hurt me. (She pulled his downcast head up by the hair) Don't hurt me.

She was taken aback, hesitated, and appeared to accept his marriage proposal - seeing in him a return to what she had first been attracted to - his homespun wisdom and idealism, but she was still wary of his womanizing and unpredictability.

The Sudden Appearance of Mrs. Rhodes:

After the scene faded to black, the next scene dissolved into a view of Marcia watching a TV screen in the penthouse apartment's living room, where a female trio was performing the song: "Old Fashioned Marriage."

Old Fashioned Marriage

An old-fashioned marriage
Is my kind of marriage
A marriage that never grows old

Marcia was interrupted by Beanie (who was living in one of the penthouse rooms) who informed her that an unidentified lady was at the door. The crass female barged into Marcia's presence without being invited, and expressed awe at the opulence in the room. As the advertiser on the TV announced: "You know, some of you trade in your old cars...," the woman introduced herself as Mrs. Rhodes (Kay Medford) - not Rhodes' mother but his legitimate wife. At that instant, Lonesome was on his TV show describing his views on marriage and divorce, and officiating at a second marriage ceremony between Austin and Wilma: "You know, the other day, I was talking about divorce..."

Mrs. Rhodes turned down the volume on the TV, and then stood above Marcia - snidely commenting about her difficult relationship with Lonesome. Claiming she was only Rhodes' "business associate," Marcia was sorry that Rhodes hadn't told her about his marriage:

Mrs. Rhodes: So, you're Lonesome's new tootsie, huh? Lonesome. That's a hot one. I hope you have better luck keeping him lonesome than I did.
Marcia: I think you should understand I'm just a business associate of Mr. Rhodes.
Mrs. Rhodes: Ain't you the whole box top, though? The floor manager of your program is my brother-in-law's first cousin. He told me where I could find you. So you come off it, little lady...
Marcia: I must say, Mr. Rhodes might have done me the courtesy of telling me himself.
Mrs. Rhodes: Oh, Mr. Rhodes don't do no courtesies to nobody. I could write a book about him.
Marcia: Is that the purpose of your visit, to collect some more material?

Her main purpose in being there was to blackmail or extort Lonesome, now that he had become wealthy and famous. She would demand a monthly stipend for her silence about his profligate lifestyle and frequent womanizing, and refuse to divorce him unless he paid up:

Mrs. Rhodes: Oh, I came to collect, but it ain't material. Unless you get Larry to pay me three grand a month, not only will I not divorce him, but I will make it plenty hot for the both of ya. I already got some feelers from Confidential magazine.
Marcia: I'm not engaged to your husband.
Mrs. Rhodes: Ah. Larry, he thinks he has to take a bite out of every broad he comes across. Then he calls them a tramp, and he drops them, and... All sort of psycho-somethin'-or-other, you know? I caught him red-handed with my best girlfriend. He broke my jaw.
Marcia: Seems to be working quite effectively now.

When she was about to depart, she left with a parting threat: "Well, tell Larry, three-G a month, then he's yours."

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