(Dir. Sidney Lumet) (1976)
It has been suggested that TV doesn’t create the rage that Network evokes. With profound respect, bull-crap! Network is a perfect film for the mid 70s and beyond, a great tribute to anyone who has found himself shouting at Mr. Television (at the odd pundit, politician, referee, insurance salesman) from time to time.
Lumet had a wonderful directorial career, but he suffered (if lack of gongs counts) from being first and foremost a director for actors and writers. Network is a grand homage to both: Paddy Chayefsky mines a bit from his script for The Hospital but here, it plays as a dream, the most literate (and verbose) treatment ever in a Yankee film (‘auspicatory’, ‘adamantine’ etc., – extracts below). The text is that which is anathema to the American Dream – the demise of the individual.
And the performances are pure gold (of which, see below). But the feel of the thing, so utterly cynical, is like no other mainstream American film made till then. It paves the way for the nihilism to follow. In that context, Network is genuinely revolutionary. It is so over-the-top, as to be beautiful – ridiculous, of course, but still beautiful. And in essence, it has virtually come true.
This film has a bunch of very nice performances:
Robert Duvall is sensational as the full-bore corporate hatchet-man. Faye Dunaway is terrific as the ratings-hungry programmer, with an omnivorous appetite for sex, food, the corporate ladder, but mostly ratings. William Holden is wonderful as the old news-hand who tries to hold back the wall of insanity flooding in; he was never better, as mister integrity, in his best role since Sunset Blvd). Beatrice Straight gives one of the best performances in any film, ever, as his loyal but betrayed wife, who bites back eloquently and in a devastating fashion. That performance is very special.
Which brings us to Peter Finch. A cautious, yet charismatic actor, god-knows what casting director saw him as apt for this role, the mad seer – he had the shaggy gravitas, maybe, but he nailed this role as we imagine no-one else could. His combination of middle-aged, dignified, Cassandra-like authority is awesome and inspired. He seems so sane and tranquil one moment; the next, he is authentically barking Mad, which is no mean feat, especially in a film where everyone is mad.
It has a priceless motherlode of lines:
Max Schumacher to Howard Beale: “I said: Take me to the middle of the George Washington Bridge…and the cabbie turns around and says ‘don’t do it buddy…’ did I ever tell you that one before?”
Max visualises a new hit: “The Death Hour – great Sunday night show for the whole family – wipe f***king Disney right off the air.”
Howard announces his forthcoming on-air suicide: “So tune in next Tuesday, that should give the public relations people a week to promote the show. It ought to get a hell of a rating out of that. A 50 share – easy.”
Programme Executive Diana Christensen explains: “The American People are turning sullen. They’ve been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression, they’ve turned-off, shot-up, and they **cked themselves limp and nothing helps…the American people want someone to articulate their rage for them.”
Howard serenely winds-up his regular news-wrap: “So I don’t have any bullshit left…I just ran out of it, you see?”
Frank Hackett: “For God’s sake, Diana, we’re talking about putting a manifestly, irresponsible man on national television.” (Diana nods vigorously).
Howard: “Yeah, I think I’d like to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times.”
Howard has the call: “You’re on television, dummy…[then explaining away his psychotic episode] “…This is not a psychotic episode, this is a cleansing moment of clarity…I’m imbued with some special spirit…what I think the Hindus call Prahna…”
Hackett confronts Schumacher: “It’s a big, fat, big-titted hit, and I don’t have to waffle around with Ruddy anymore!”
Howard’s peroration: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”
Board Report: Hackett: “The fat…had to be flitched-off…this network… may be the towering and most profitable in the entire CCA Empire…” Mr. Jensen: “Very good, Frank, exemplary. Keep it up.”
Max’s wife Louise is told the bad news and retorts: “This is…your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years…is that’s what left for me? She gets the winter passion and I get the dotage? I hurt, don’t you understand, I hurt badly.” [That prick needed telling!]
Mr. Jensen: “Valhalla, Mr. Beale, please, sit down…You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!“
Howard’s final appeal: “It’s the individual that’s finished…”