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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Network (1976)


What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: A satirical criticism of Television and how its corrupted not only America but the world.


Plot Summary: Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the lead anchor at UBS, is fired when his ratings tank. Network executive Max Schumacher (William Holden), Howard's best friend, is forced to deliver the bad news. Beale can't stomach the idea of his firing, so he announces to the viewers that he's going to commit suicide on his final program. Network head Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) finds out that UBS had its greatest ratings ever on the night of Beale's self-destruction, and programming exec Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) talks Hackett into reprogramming Beale's show. Beale becomes the hottest TV personality in America, and Diana becomes the network's fair-haired girl, drawing up plans to treat the nightly news broadcast as entertainment, built around the rants of Beale. However, when Beale steps on a corporate deal between the owners of UBS and the Saudis, all hell breaks loose, and Beale is caught in the crosshairs.


Cast:

  • Sidney Lumet, Director

  • Paddy Chayefsky, Screenwriter

  • Faye Dunaway as Diana Christensen

  • William Holden as Max Schumacher

  • Peter Finch as Howard Beale

  • Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett

  • Wesley Addy as Nelson Chaney

  • Ned Beatty as Arthur Jensen

  • Beatrice Straight as Louise Schumacher

  • Jordan Charney as Harry Hunter

  • William Prince as Edward Ruddy

  • Lane Smith as Robert McDonough

  • Marlene Warfield as Laureen Hobbs

*Recognition:

  • Network was released on November 27, 1976.

  • On its release, Network received widespread critical acclaim, with particular praise for the performances.

  • It received nine Oscar nominations at the 1977 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director (Lumet), Actor (Holden), Supporting Actor (Beatty), Cinematography and Film Editing, and four wins: Best Actor (Finch), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Straight), and Best Original Screenplay Chayefsky.

  • Network currently holds a 92% among critics on RT, an 83% on Metacritic, and a 4.2 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

  • In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

  • In 2002, it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has "set an enduring standard for American entertainment".

  • In 2005, the Writers Guild of America voted Chayefsky's script one of the 10 greatest screenplays in the history of cinema.

  • Network has been recognized by the AFI on the following lists:

    • #66 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (1998)

    • Nominated - AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs

    • AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:

      • Diana Christensen – Nominated Villain

    • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:

      • #19 - "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

    • #64 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)

  • Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote that "no predictor of the future—not even Orwell—has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network." The film ranks at number 100 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.

Did You Know:

  • Director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky claimed that the film was not meant to be a satire but a reflection of what was really happening.

  • Sidney Lumet said that he shot the film using a specific lighting scheme. He said in the film's opening scenes, he shot with as little light as possible, shooting the film almost like a documentary. As the film progressed, he added more light and more camera moves and by the end of the film, it was as brightly lit and "slick" as he could make it. The idea was to visually convey the theme of media manipulation.

  • Peter Finch was desperate to win the role of Howard Beale once he had read the script. He even offered to pay his own airfare to New York City for the screentest. But Sidney Lumet was concerned about Finch's Australian accent. Finch won the part after sending Lumet a recording of himself reading the New York Times with a perfect American accent.

  • Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor were approached for the Howard Beale role, but neither was interested. Cronkite's daughter Kathy Cronkite agreed to play left-wing radical Mary Ann Gifford, a character loosely based on Patricia Hearst. According to John Eastman's 1989 book "Retakes: Behind the Scenes of 500 Classic Movies," Peter Finch studied tapes of Chancellor in order to develop a "TV-bland accent."

  • Henry Fonda turned down the role of Howard Beale, saying that it was "too hysterical." Glenn Ford and George C. Scott did also. James Stewart turned the film down because of the strong language. Although William Holden turned it down, he was cast in the other male lead and was nominated for Best Actor along with Peter Finch.

  • According to Sidney Lumet, the "Mad as Hell" speech was filmed in one and a half takes. Midway through the second take, Peter Finch abruptly stopped in exhaustion. Lumet was unaware of Finch's failing heart at the time, but in any case, did not ask for a third take. The complete film features the second half of the first take and the first half of the second take.

  • Peter Finch died before the Academy Awards were to take place, where he was nominated for Best Actor. He won, making him the first performer ever to receive a posthumous award at the Oscars. The second winner was fellow Australian Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008).

  • Faye Dunaway would later say that this was "the only film I ever did that you didn't touch the script because it was almost as if it were written in verse." She was as happy with Sidney Lumet as with the writing, describing him as "one of, if not the, most talented and professional men in the world."

  • Beatrice Straight is only on-screen for five minutes and two seconds. Hers is the briefest performance ever to win an Oscar.

  • Ned Beatty once remarked that actors should never turn down work ("I worked a day on 'Network' and got an Oscar nomination for it"). Beatty is on screen for five minutes and 53 seconds, but the performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

  • Sidney Lumet openly admitted that he was furious to have the picture lose to Rocky (1976) for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

  • The only music heard in the film comes from commercials and television show themes.

  • As of 2021, this is the last movie to receive five Academy Award nominations in the acting categories.

Best Performance: Paddy Chayefsky (screenwriter)

Best Secondary Performance: Peter Finch (Beale)

Most Charismatic Award: William Holden (Max)/Sidney Lumet (Director)

Best Scene:

  • "I'm Going to Blow My Brains Out..."

  • Max and Diana

  • The Ecumenical Liberation Army

  • "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

  • Max Tells His Wife

  • The Saudis and CCA Deal

  • Arthur Jensen

  • Killing Beale

Favorite Scene: The Saudis and the CCA Deal/Max and Diana

Most Indelible Moment: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"


In Memorium:

  • Mike Schank, 53, American musician and actor (American Movie, Storytelling, Hamlet A.D.D.), cult-hero after playing himself in the Sundance winning documentary American Movie where he was the most-trusted crew member making the low-budget horror movie, Coven, which he also ended up scoring.

  • Ted White, 96, American stuntman (Escape from New York, Road House, Tron, Wild Wild West) and actor (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) - John Wayne's stunt double early in his career as well as stand-in for Clark Gable.

  • Robert Gordon, 75, American rockabilly singer - part of the band Tuff Darts, did solo work with Bruce Springsteen on the song "Fire" that was eventually a hit for the Pointer Sisters, and has a new album coming out on November 25, 2022.

  • Robbie Coltrane, 72, Scottish actor (Blackadder, Harry Potter, Cracker, GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough) and comedian - tributes online from Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Radcliffe, Judi Dench, and many more.

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Howard Beale: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"


Howard Beale: [arms outstretched to the heavens] Edward George Ruddy died today! Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman of the Board of the Union Broadcasting Systems, and he died at eleven o'clock this morning of a heart condition, and woe is us! We're in a lot of trouble! [calmly strolling toward the audience] So. A rich little man with white hair died. What has that got to do with the price of rice, right? And *why* is that woe to us? Because you people, and sixty-two million other Americans, are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books! Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers! Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the Gospel, the ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers... This tube is the most awesome God-damned force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls in to the hands of the wrong people, and that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died. Because this company is now in the hands of CCA - the Communication Corporation of America. There's a new Chairman of the Board, a man called Frank Hackett, sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the twentieth floor. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome God-damned propoganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network? [ascending the stage] So, you listen to me. Listen to me: Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We're in the boredom-killing business! So if you want the truth... Go to God! Go to your gurus! Go to yourselves! Because that's the only place you're ever going to find any real truth.


Diana Christensen: I watched your 6 o'clock news today; it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park; on the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crime, sports, children with incurable diseases, and lost puppies. So, I don't think I'll listen to any protestations of high standards of journalism when you're right down on the streets soliciting audiences like the rest of us. Look, all I'm saying is if you're going to hustle, at least do it right.


Max Schumacher: It's too late, Diana. There's nothing left in you that I can live with. You're one of Howard's humanoids. If I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. You're television incarnate, Diana: Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You're madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure, and pain... and love.


Diana Christensen: Look, I sent you all a concept analysis report yesterday. Did any of you read it? [Aides stare blankly at her] Well, in a nutshell, it said: "The American people are turning sullen. They've been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they've turned off, shot up, and they've fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps." So, this concept analysis report concludes, "The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them." I've been telling you people since I took this job six months ago that I want angry shows. I don't want conventional programming on this network. I want counterculture, I want anti-establishment. I don't want to play butch boss with you people, but when I took over this department, it had the worst programming record in television history. This network hasn't one show in the top twenty. This network is an industry joke, and we'd better start putting together one winner for next September. I want a show developed based on the activities of a terrorist group, "Joseph Stalin and His Merry Band of Bolsheviks," I want ideas from you people. This is what you're paid for. And by the way, the next time I send an audience research report around, you'd all better read it, or I'll sack the fucking lot of you. Is that clear?


Louise Schumacher: Then get out, go anywhere you want, go to a hotel, go live with her, and don't come back. Because, after 25 years of building a home and raising a family and all the senseless pain that we have inflicted on each other, I'm damned if I'm going to stand here and have you tell me you're in love with somebody else. Because this isn't a convention weekend with your secretary, is it? Or - or some broad that you picked up after three belts of booze. This is your great winter romance, isn't it? Your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years. Is that what's left for me? Is that my share? She gets the winter passion, and I get the dotage? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to sit at home knitting and purling while you slink back like some penitent drunk? I'm your wife, damn it. And, if you can't work up a whit of passion for me, the least I require is respect and allegiance. I hurt. Don't you understand that? I hurt badly.


Howard Beale: [laughing to himself] But, man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We'll tell you that, uh, Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker's house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he's going to win. We'll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in *illusions*, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds... We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even *think* like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing! *WE* are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I'm speaking to you now! TURN THEM OFF...

[collapses in a prophetic swoon as the audience erupts in thunderous applause]


Diana Christensen: Well Max, here we are: Middle-aged man reaffirming his middle-aged manhood, and a terrified young woman with a father complex. What sort of script do you think we can make out of this?


Arthur Jensen: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it! Is that clear? You think you've merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU... WILL... ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.

Howard Beale: Why me?

Arthur Jensen: Because you're on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.

Howard Beale: I have seen the face of God.

Arthur Jensen: You just might be right, Mr. Beale.


Diana Christensen: The time has come to re-evaluate our relationship, Max.

Max Schumacher: So I see.

Diana Christensen: I don't like the way this script of ours has turned out. It's turning into a seedy little drama.

Max Schumacher: You're going to cancel the show?

Diana Christensen: Right.


Narrator: This was the story of Howard Beale: The first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.


Howard Beale: Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park...


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 7

Impact/Significance: 8

Novelty: 10

Classic-ness: 9.5

Rewatchability: 8

Audience Score: 8.7 (81% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 51.2


Remaining Questions:

  • What does the next day's show look like after Beale is killed?

  • When does Mr. Jensen figure out that the UBS team conspired to kill Beale?

  • Explain the May-December romance between Max and Diana?

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