Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight and Arthur Burghardt
Sidney Lumet’s satire about a floundering television network that pulls out all the stops for the sake of ratings.
Oscar Wins: Best Actor- Peter Finch, Best Actress- Faye Dunaway, Best Supporting Actress- Beatrice Straight, Best Original Screenplay- Paddy Chayefsky
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In 1975, NBC, CBS and ABC were spanking the Union Broadcasting System (UBS), in the ratings, in an attempt to buck this trend, UBS made the decision to give their long time anchor of their nightly newscast, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), his two-week notice. This news was broken to Beale by his long time friend and producer Max Schumacher (William Holden) a little before he was to go on for his nightly newscast.
It was during this newscast that Howard Beale made the announcement that he was going to shoot himself during the broadcast that following Tuesday. Immediately following the broadcast Beale is fired, but is given a chance to apologize to the public for making the announcement the next night, after strong persuading by Schumacher. Instead of apologizing however, Beale gets on the air and goes into a rant about the “bullshit” that is life. This time however, Beale is not fired, after the president is shown the high ratings of the newscast by a young, up and coming female producer, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), who at that time was working on the creative side, trying to make up new shows, which led her to cut a deal with a left-wing terrorist group.
The network heads decided to reinstate Beale, much to the dismay of Schumacher, in hopes that he would break up into another rant, but after a few weeks, the novelty seemed to be over and the ratings started to dip once again. During this point Beale was staying with Schumacher and his wife, due to his heavy drinking and unstableness, when one night, after suffering what seemed to be a nervous break down, left and wondered the street, arriving at the UBS building right in time for his nightly broadcast. It was this broadcast in which Beale uttered, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” in reference to everything that he had been through in the recent past as well as the state of the nation. With Beale’s encouragement, people started yelling the phrase all across the country, leading Christensen to convince the network heads to create The Howard Beale Show.
It was also around this time that we find out that Christensen had been a fan of Schumacher for several years and had hopes of taking his job after his retirement. An affair ensued, but was quickly ended when the network decided to let Schumacher go and be replaced by Christensen.
With no one to stand up for Beale left, the network let him loose on his, where he would have an opening monologue of one of his rants, which was followed by him fainting in the middle of the stage. The network set up other segments around Beale, and the show was off. Christensen started focusing on the terrorist group now, which would follow the groups’ activities as they found for whatever they believed in. This association with the group lead to one of the funnier scenes in the film, where the lawyers from both sides are trying to work out the best deal for their clients.
After a few months had past, Schumacher attended the funeral of the former president of the network, one that Christensen had also attended, and their affair was rekindled. This time, Schumacher ended up leaving his wife (Beatrice Straight) and moved in with Christensen, a decision he would come to regret. He quickly found out that Christensen was too worried about the affairs of the business and was too caught up to have any connection with another person. This was not the only big lost for Christensen, soon she discovered that The Howard Beale Show’s numbers where starting to take a hit, and that the members of the terrorist group were upset that the network focused more on Beale’s show so their numbers were suffering for that.
In an attempt to get rid of Beale’s show and draw attention to the terrorists’ show, Christensen and the terrorist leaders constructed a plan to kill Beale during his show, which they did. The final scene of the film was several televisions delivering the news that Howard Beale had been shot and killed during the broadcast of his show.
On a personal level, this is one of my favorite films, it is very smart and is loaded with dark humor. The writing in it is second to none and seemed to have some psychic abilities, do to the similarities the network in the film had with one that started about ten years later in FOX, that would take edgy shows in hopes to push the envelope.
This film also hits on the decay of the “American Family” as well as women in high positions, although the film does vilify Diana Christensen as a home wrecker and someone that causes about her work more than her relationships.
Network was nominated for ten Academy Awards, taking home four, three for acting, but lost Best Picture to Rocky. In 1998 the American Film Institute voted it the number 66 in its top 100 films of the past 100 years, and ten years later was voted 64th by the Institute.
This really is a terrific film and one that I highly suggest seeing, Enjoy.