“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
This is the most famous line in 1976’s Network and could possibly be one of the most famous lines of the decade in film. That quote is said by Howard Beales, perhaps the most memorable character of the movie. When people think about this movie, most of them think about the antics of Howard Beale in the movie. His character is associated on a real-life scenario where some news reporter committed an on-air suicide. We shall talk more about this character later, but this film is more than just about Howard Beale. This is a scathing satire about the decline of actual news reporting. The theme is simple and it leads into today’s news reporting. They just report what people want to hear, not actual stories. If ratings are bad, you can say goodbye to reporters, newscasters, programs, etc. and they will be replaced no matter how good they are. What the movie does very well is conveying those themes to the audience. The movie wasn’t kind to the route the future of news reporting was heading.
The 1970’s was a very strong decade for movies, and people arguably agree this may be the best decade for movies. The decade was mostly known for character-centric movies such as this film. It seems like more often than not, each film brings out the best in the director, the actors, and everything else. When I saw that Sidney Lumet directed the movie, I said “of course this film would be good and it would have something important to say.” I already said Lumet was on top of the themes and he made the film very believable (for the most part). He was the director of classics like 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon. Lumet did a wonderful job creating instant classic after instant classic.
One incredible part of the movie which stood out to me is the screenplay. The film was written by Paddy Chayefsky and it was one of the four Oscar wins the film earned. He really understood the news business and he once said a quote which provided an inspiration for the movie, I believe. He said, “Television would do anything for a rating…..anything.” Unfortunately, that holds true today. If a critically-acclaimed show gets poor ratings, it will probably get canceled despite the strong reviews. It was more or less the same in the 1970’s, but more with the news. Chayefsky also brought across a point saying that you can do anything or say anything you want on television, but if you threaten the profits of the networks they will end you. This was a very good inspired screenplay that set up the base for the movie.
So let’s discuss what this film is about. In the 1970’s, extreme violence headed by terrorists were the source of the nightly news. Meanwhile, the corporate structure of the UBS Television Network was in the midst of a drastic change. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is an aging news anchor who has poor ratings and the network decides to fire him. Beale reacts by saying on-air that he will commit suicide. That causes his ratings to skyrocket to high levels and he is changed as he becomes a preacher of a sort. We see how this affects members of the corporate team such as Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) and Max Schumacher (William Holden).
As with most if not all films directed by Sidney Lumet, the performances are all great. I was wowed by Peter Finch’s portrayal of Howard Beale. He became some sort of a drunken preacher and my favorite scene is right after he said the famous quote from the opening of this review, he told his viewers to go to their windows and shout “we are not going to take it anymore!” There was a shot that had people shouting out their windows in the apartment buildings and I found that to be some comedic gold. Finch was fantastic and he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. In fact, he died shortly after this film’s release and he was the first actor to receive a posthumous victory. Even though most people remember Finch as Howard Beale, this film is centered on the exploits of Diana Christensen whom is played marvelously by Faye Dunaway who was previously in 1974’s Chinatown. This film had more focus on women, which I love to see from a 70’s film. She would do anything for ratings- even if it means meeting up with terrorists. (that scene featuring her and the terrorists in a meeting was weak, however). William Holden continues his long Hollywood career in this film as the elder executive who is mesmerized by Diana despite her ruining his news division and begins an affair with her. He was very convincing. Also convincing was the portrayal of Max’s wife, Louise whom was played by Beatrice Straight. She won an Oscar for Supporting Actress despite getting only five minutes of screentime. But she delivered a heart-wrenching, emotional speech to her husband after she found about the affair and because of that speech, I believe she earned her Oscar statue. In addition to getting caliber talent for the leads, Lumet stacked up his supporting cast very well. He was able to get the likes of Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty to make very convincing cameos.
I enjoyed Network to a large degree. It was a sensation when released it 1976 because it earned ten Oscar nominations. In terms of the themes, it holds up incredibly strong. In terms of production design and cinematography, well you can tell the movie is forty years old. What stood out to me is Paddy Chayefsky’s classic screenplay, Sidney Lumet’s fluid directing, wonderful acting performances across the board, and the messages that are very influential today. Despite the antics of Howard Beale, this film is women-focused and I love that. But also see this movie for Peter Finch’s incredible performance. This movie is angry at television and will forever be. After all, networks only care for their ratings not the content. Instead of delivering news and heart-warming stories, news are all about terrorists and violence. Nothing much has changed in that regard since 1976. While not the best movie of 1976, it is worth the watch.
My Grade: A-