1976

Film #287: Network (1976)

One year after Dog Day Afternoon Lumet directed Network which, out of all of his films, was definitely the most successful at the Oscars. Aside from its Oscar’s success, Network is also known for having one of the best movie screenplays of all time that being the one written by Paddy Chayefsky.


Though I’d never seen Network before I was aware that it centred around Peter Finch’s Howard Beale and the fact that he claimed he was going to commit suicide live on air. What I didn’t realise was that the main story was a lot bigger than that and involved the UBS Network’s head of programming Diana Christensen and her wish to put Beale back on the air after he becomes one of the biggest talking points in the country. Christensen is portrayed as a woman who puts her career before anything else and can’t seem to sustain a relationship with anyone. Even her affair with the married former head of news Max Schumacher doesn’t satisfy her and he eventually tries to act as the voice of reason in the film. Meanwhile Beale’s power over the masses has no ends and he soon attempts to block a merger between UPS’ owner CCA and Saudi Arabians. Obviously the CCA aren’t happy about this and attempt to put end to Beale once and for all. But, as Network shows us throughout, people are guided by television and trust it more than they do the people in their own lives.

Coming into Network, I was expecting it to all revolve around Peter Finch as Howard Beale, but I was wrong. Even though Finch rightfully won the Best Actor Oscar, I would’ve said he was more of a supporting performer while William Holden was the real star of the show. Holden’s Schumacher is the wise old sage of the film and he is the only person who doesn’t always think about what’s best for ratings. Chayefsky’s satirical look at the world of television is incredibly witty and the dialogue is written with a sort of beat at the heart of it. Finch is utterly spellbinding as the crazy Beale while Faye Dunaway puts in an Oscar-winning performance as Diana. I found Dunaway to be great here also, playing the strong woman in a man’s world she was almost the tragic heroine of the piece as she discovered that she couldn’t be anything other than her job. Robert Duvall as the company’ money man and Ned Beatty as CCA’s chairman both put in great supporting turns with the latter really playing the film’s version of the devil incarnate.
In fact, the only cast member not to make much of an impression was Beatrice Straight, odd seeing as she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the film. Straight does hold the record for appearing on screen for the shortest time. Network continues Lumet’s love of filming inside a certain location, with the UPS network buildings housing the majority of the film. Once again these buildings feel quite claustrophobic as they contain rooms full of people talking about meaningless statistics and programme concepts. Overall, I found Network to be a more wholly enjoyable film than Dog Day Afternoon even if it wasn’t as intriguing or gripping. Network, and in particular its script, has influenced a whole generation of directors and screenwriters, many of whom have mocked the industry in which they made their name. Though Network is an incredibly influential film, it still holds up today in its own right and I do think people should seek it out if they haven’t already seen it.

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