IMDB #244: Network

Hello, everybody. Do you feel the urge to yell at thunderstorms? Are you plagued by an irrational desire to spontaneously embark on long soliloquies about how mad you are (perhaps especially when you’re mad as hell?) ? Then Network may be the 1976 movie for you.

The Key Players:

Sidney Lumet, a multiple award winner and director of classic things that we will get to later like 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon (but also the director of The Wiz). He works from a script by screenwriter and playwright Paddy Chayefsky.

William Holden, the star of Sunset Boulevard and Oscar-winning star of Stalag 17 acts as our audience surrogate, an old-timer network news producer that’s getting to old for this proverbial shiznit. He mostly frowns and then lectures people.

Peter Finch is the iconic news castor that flips out on air when told of his impending retirement. After his death while promoting the film of a heart attack in January 1977, he became the only Australian and dead guy to win an Academy Award the next month. He mostly freaks out and then lectures people.

Faye Dunaway, from Bonnie and Clyde and doubtlessly a bunch of other things, is the hotshot entertainment producer that wants to sleaze-ify the news for a bigger share. She mostly lectures people about how important ratings are.

Elsewhere, Robert Duvall angrily lectures people about profits or something, Beatrice Straight lectures Holden as his wife, and Ned Beatty drops in for a fiery guest lecture about economics (spoiler alert! I found this film a little preachy!).

The Story:

So there’s a fictional network called UBS (BS, get it?), and it has a floundering news program with a floundering old anchor named Howard Beale (Finch). It falls to longtime friend and producer Holden to tell a whacked out Finch that he’s being asked to resign in two weeks time.

Finch naturally goes on air and announces that he’s planning to shoot himself on the air the following Tuesday. This causes of course an uproar with the bigwigs, with Duvall’s proxy for the parent company among them. Finch is fired, but then appears to come to his senses and asks to make an apology on air, to go out with dignity. Instead he goes on a rant about how he’s run out of bullshit (oh my goodness he made a swear!), and the network flips out again but the public loves it.

Dunaway gets the bright idea to retool the entire program into a farcical variety news show with a mystic and a long segment of Finch ranting for a while to a zombie-like, salivating populace which adores him for ranting like a lunatic.

Holden, who was forced out when he let Finch start ranting in the first place, then brought back, then fired again when Duvall gets more power, meanwhile leaves his wife (Straight) to embark on a stilted and inexplicable affair with Dunaway.

Eventually Finch starts to rant in a near-populist bent that angers the overlords once again. And everyone has to choose between ratings and integrity, and nobody chooses the latter. Also there’s a bit with a faux Vietnamese Liberation Army and a mob heiress or something.

The Artisticness:

Visually this film is pretty straightforward- there’s some business with a big bank of TV monitors, but otherwise I can’t remember a single memorable shot.

But damn if you can’t tell Chayefsky’s a playwright- somebody shut the hell up already!

I’m not going to lie to you people- I’m pretty pretentious, most of the time, and I think on occasion about the fine line between intelligence and condescension- Lumet and Chayefsky more or less obliterate it with this story.

Actual lines from this Academy Award winning screenplay:

“I hurt. Don't you understand that? I hurt badly.”

“Howard Beale is processed instant God.”

“And that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day.”

Do you know how many of those reflect actual human speech? None of them! None! This is not a cardinal sin- it would be more than forgivable in a satire if any of it were, you know, at all funny. Let’s move on.

The theme, such as it is, is a pretty clear dissemination on the bastardization of journalistic integrity for gimmicky ratings stunts. From Edward Murrow to that show where strippers read the news. And by “dissemination” I mean brutal, constant bludgeoning over the head with the idea.


Yes it is- Ned Beatty, basically the head of all the head honchos, gets royally pissed at Finch when his ranting disrupts a buyout by a Middle Eastern company. So he hauls him into his office, and yells at him about the free market economy and the idea that there are no nations, just an interconnected series of corporations and dollars until Finch converts to the cause and stops preaching dissention on the air.

Naturally then his ratings start to go south, but Beatty won’t let him be taken off the air. So Duvall, Dunaway and company decide to have him assassinated. On air. Which he is, in a ridiculously artificial final scene to the film, and then because we haven’t had enough people explaining things to our feeble little minds, the narrator comes on and says “This was the story of Howard Beale: The first known instance of a man who was killed because of lousy ratings.”

Thanks, chotch. Didn’t catch that one on my own. Oh also Holden and Dunaway end their relationship with a whole lot of terrible television-centric clichés. Yawn.


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Can you tell I didn’t enjoy this very much, at all? Lower, definitely lower. I’m not arguing that the acting here isn’t fine, and the writing accomplished if insufferable. But there’s clearly a fundamental disconnect with the entire emphasis for me.

Is it because the idea that the network news isn’t a paragon of virtue is nothing remotely shocking or risqué to me? That’s probably part of it, yeah. I’m one of the young degenerates that gets my news online or from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart because it’s just as good a source as any.

But characters with more than one dimension might have helped. Finch was a nonsensical zealot, but the kind of zealot that’s easily swayed. Holden was a bland righteous old fart, who didn’t even have an explanation for his attraction to Dunaway (other than the plot required it). Dunaway was pretty shrill, sorry.

I did like Duvall, who always plays mean pretty well. But mostly this hit a bunch of bum notes for me.

The Legacy:

But I’m in the vast minority on that one. This won four Oscars out of ten nominations- Screenplay, Finch, as well as Leading Actress for Dunaway, and an inexplicable Supporting Actress statue for Straight (who chewed scenery for a full 5 minutes and 40 seconds).

And it’s number 64 or so on the AFI list. Um, okay?

I’m just throwing this out there- I’m a bigger fan of the ten second part of the scene in the trunk in Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight where George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez randomly talk about and Clooney gets the line mostly wrong. I enjoyed that ten seconds more than this whole film.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Just out of spite, the Out Of Sight Trunk scene instead. I make the rules around here.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • I was supposed to laugh during this film, right? Because I didn’t. Holden tells the same joke twice that has everyone in hysterics, but it’s pretty lame the first time.
  • Is Peter Finch Albert Finney’s dad? Are they related? Did Sidney Lumet’s dad have a deep, craggy voice like those two, because Finney was just in Lumet’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (which also misfired for me).

1 Response to "IMDB #244: Network"

  1. tl;dr

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