Bottom Line: Well, this one’s a real nail-biter.
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Ned Beatty, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, William Holden
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” –Peter Finch as Howard Beale
The more I think about Network, the more my thoughts boil down to one single theory: it isn’t a drama. Okay, it is, but it doesn’t open as one, so to speak. Network is political satire, and this is used to build an exponentially intensifying, terrifically jaw-dropping drama. This is a story of how the media can so easily corrupt human lifestyle. We don’t realize how much time we spend in front of the TV, and fall victim to it; sadly, our flaw is just as relevant as it was in 1976 when the film hit theaters. Our leading character is Howard Beale (Peter Finch). Beale is a revered anchor on UBS, one of very few stations who has yet to broadcast a hit. Suddenly, Beale appears on the air spewing profanities like a sailor, ranting and complaining about how his life is “bulls##t”. Those in the control room are flooded with phone calls upon the very first obscenity; he continues and they’re prepared to cut him off. But over half these phone calls aren’t complaints. They’re praise for the authenticity found in the rambling.
By popular demand, Beale reprises his outraged appearance in a nightly fashion. The Nielsen ratings begin skyrocketing, and what was originally UBS Evening News is now The Howard Beale Show. Starting out, its Nielsen ratings chart it at #4, only behind The Six Million Dollar Man, All in the Family, and Phyllis. Less than a year later, the program has made it to number one, but unseen controversy increases as well, as there is constant failure to report international crisis. You can see where the plot speeds forth from here. Network takes the old “rags to riches” premise, exaggerates it tenfold, yet makes it seem so utterly plausible. There’s a scene in here in which Beale, on the air, encourages viewers to plunge their heads out their apartment windows and scream, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Because they’re all mad with society; that’s what popularized him in the first place. It doesn’t take very long until the entire city is blasting the phrase from the tops of their lungs. And perhaps this isn’t the most realistic, but in the media-obsessed age, it’s incredibly possible. The scene is easy to recognize, 36 years later. I’m not sure it’s because of the underlying comic value or the humane feeling of fright, but I’ll go with the latter.
Network is a performing powerhouse. The film was nominated for five(!) acting Oscars, winning three of them. Although Faye Dunaway displays exorbitant amounts of energy in her “leading lady” performance, it’s a rather subdued delivery that rings a bit more memorable: that of Beatrice Straight. Straight marks the shortest time to garner an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but her performance is so strong. Her time clocks in at five minutes, forty seconds (most of which is a heated argument with her character’s husband), but she’s just as memorable as those who appeared throughout the entire feature. Peter Finch received a posthumous Oscar for his extraordinary efforts as Howard Beale. I could have guessed his cause of death was a heart attack without an ounce of research: there’s so much irate, paranoid aggression in his role, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the source of a heart condition. All jokes aside, Network is required viewing. Knowing our naturally submissive regard to the media, I implore you all to watch it. And I can be a very volatile person, mind you. Don’t make me as mad as hell. I may not be able to take it anymore.