#124) Network (1976)
OR “Howard’s End”
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Class of 2000
The Plot: Failing TV network UBS decides to lay off its longtime news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch). During a live broadcast, Beale announces he will commit suicide during his final show. He is taken off the air, but immediately put back on when his rant gives the show a significant ratings boost. Entertainment Division head Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) exploits Beale’s newfound fame and re-brands him as the “mad prophet of the airwaves”. Beale’s longtime colleague and News Division head Max Schumacher (William Holden) tries to stop all of this, but finds himself in a complicated emotional relationship with Diana. And all of this trouble for a 50 share.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “a piercing and vitriolic satire of television news” and praises Lumet, Chayefsky, and the cast. There’s also an essay by film professor and Lumet expert Joanna E. Rapf.
But Does It Really?: Full disclosure: “Network” is one of my favorite films, so you’re not getting an argument from me on its inclusion here. I have watched it many times over the years and still find something new to enjoy and appreciate. The script contains some amazing insight by Chayefsky that would not be out of place in today’s climate, primarily about the corruptive influence television has had on America. Add to the mix Sidney Lumet’s trademark straight-forward direction, and a full ensemble that relishes the opportunity to speak Paddy’s words, and you’ve got a classic. It’s no longer the satire it was initially hailed as, but “Network” continues to hold a mirror to what our world has become and how we choose (or not) to cope with it.
Shout Outs: A poster for “Singin’ in the Rain” can be seen hanging on the bathroom wall of Diana’s apartment for some reason.
Everybody Gets One: Peter Finch, as well as most of the bit players, most notably Beatrice Straight, Conchata “Berta” Ferrell, and the always dependable Lane Smith.
Seriously, Oscars?: “Network” tied “Rocky” with 10 Oscar nominations, the most for the 1976 ceremony. The film walked away with four Oscars: Original Screenplay for Chayefsky, Actress for Dunaway, Supporting Actress for Beatrice Straight, and Actor for Peter Finch (Sadly, the first posthumous acting winner in Oscar history). Despite its front-runner status, “Network” lost Best Picture and Director to underdog “Rocky”, and Sidney Lumet never got over that.
- First off, a shout-out to Dave Itzkoff’s book “Mad as Hell”. It’s essentially a Chayefsky biography that emphasizes “Network”, but its detailed account of the film’s production is indispensable.
- This whole post could be how much I love this cast. Dunaway and Holden are giving their career-best performances, and Robert Duvall is always great when you just let him yell at people.
- Paddy has a lot to say about television and he doesn’t waste a second. This film hits the ground running with not only its plot, but with its creatively colorful dialogue (it sounds like every character swallowed a thesaurus).
- This viewing made me realize how much Chayefsky loves subtle alliteration in his writing (“morbid middle-aged moods”, “a certain sinister silkiness”)
- The conflicted romance between Max and Diana has always been my favorite part of the film. And to think just two years earlier these two were in “The Towering Inferno”.
- As much as I love Peter Finch in this film, his English-by-way-of-Australian accent is noticeable. The main giveaway is his pronunciation of the word “homicide”.
- The “Mad as Hell” scene is still great, and that preceding monologue is surprisingly still applicable to our times.
- Boy, the FCC is really lax about the profanity on UBS. Beale says “shit” and “goddamn” during “The Howard Beale Show”.
- Diana calls her tryst with Max “a many-splendored thing”. Not the first time Max has had that.
- I have so much to say about Beatrice Straight’s performance that it warrants its own write-up.
- Speaking of bit parts, shout-out to Marlene Warfield as Laureen Hobbs. She is pitch-perfect in the role. If nothing else, her delivery of “that Bionic WOMAN” is flawless.
- One of the few things that always seemed out of place to me is that Diana has to specify that Channel 3 is UBS in L.A. to a room full of the network’s L.A. affiliates. Wouldn’t they know what channel they work for?
- We as a society need to bring back ruffled tuxedo shirts.
- Wow, protesting was a lot harder before the internet.
- And then we get Ned Beatty as CCA chairman Arthur Jensen. Yet another bit player who turns their moment into a meal (and, in Beatty’s case, an Oscar nomination).
- No, that’s not Tim Robbins at the end. But it sure does look like him, I’ll give you that.
- You mean besides the complete corruption of television and the sensationalism of news that has happened over the last 40 years? I feel like that’s enough of a legacy for any movie, thank you very much.
- “Network” is still cited by many as having one of the best screenplays ever. One of its main champions is Aaron Sorkin, who endlessly references the film in the pilot of “Studio 60”.
- A stage version by Lee Hall is opening in London very soon, with Bryan Cranston taking over the Howard Beale role.
- Louise Schumacher found a new life for herself studying the paranormal.
- And of course, everyone who shouts that they’re “mad as hell” and “not going to take this anymore”.