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Review #2 NETWORK (1976)

“I think I’d like to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our time.”
-Howard Beale

I cannot delve into the 1976 dark comedy, Network that dominated at the academy awards the following year without first discussing its strongest aspect… the script. In what can only be described as prophecy, Paddy Chayefsky wrote a screenplay that doesn’t criticize the cultural norms of television at the time but instead exaggerates and even forewarns the dangers of corporate media.

In his final performance within a major motion picture and the only role that ever earned him an Oscar, Australian actor Peter Finch takes center screen as the veteran news anchor, Howard Beale of the Union Broadcast system’s UBS Evening News. After learning he will no longer be working at the station, due to a rating plunge, Beale addresses the audience in the first of many monologs this film is best known for. Over the course of two days, he rants, raves, curses and even threatens to kill himself on air!

His state of mind raises concerns from co-star, news division President and friend, Max Schumacher (William Holding), but also causes ratings to go up. It doesn’t matter if Beale is a senile old man, executives, such as Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) will keep putting him on the air because all they see are dollar signs.

Keeping Howard on the air provides him a platform to criticize anyone and anything. Issues addressed range from the influence of money and corporate takeover of the power of television and how it influences culture and decision making. The dialogue presented within this film is fresh, thought-provoking and arguably the strongest aspect of this film.

Faye Dunaway leading the boardroom.

Paddy Chayefsky went on to win an Academy Award in 1977, for his work in writing the film, but he wasn’t the only cast member to take home a golden Oscar. As much as I loved Peter Finch’s performance as the lead, Howard Beale, I can’t say he carried this film on his back. There are too many “Oscar worthy” moments presented in this film to mention. It is no surprise to me that Peter Finch took Best Actor, or that Faye Dunaway took the best actress, but what might come as a surprise is that Beatrice Straight received an award for “Best Supporting Actress” even though she had less than ten minutes of overall screen time. The scene that can be best attributed to her award is short, but executed with a passionate fury, as she is forced to confront the crumbling of her 25-year marriage. My heart sunk as I watched her pour her heart and soul all over the set. I won’t spoil what Max Schumacher did to devastate the state of his marriage, but what I will say is the destruction left him at a crossroads, desperate and willing to return to his family life, by the story’s end.

Network became the second film ever to win in 3 out of the 4 acting categories. (second only to A Streetcar Named Desire [1951]) In addition, the film became the first to recieve an Academy Award for an actor after they passed, as lead actor Peter Finch passed away shortly after the film's release. The only other time the Academy awarded a performance to a deceased actor was in 2009, for Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight.

It must be noted that this film was written as a satirical look at broadcast journalism and many within the field at the time, such as Barbara Walters and Walter Cronkite did not like the film, as they feared audiences would see it as fact. Corporate Media did not have nearly the amount of influence in the mid-70s, as it does today. Paddy Chayefsky unintentionally proved to have prescience when he wrote 1976 must see dark comedy Network. In fact, this film is so prophetic that writer Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, Newsroom, The West Wing, The Social Network) said, “No predictor of the future – not even Orwell – has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network.

It is the message that transcends to audiences even now, over 40 years later that makes this film great.