The world of television and film lost a true great this morning. The lovable ol' Andy Griffith passed away at the age of 86. Although best known for series like The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock (two TV programs I never really watched), the movie fans still have a few great films and performances worth pointing to.
A Face in the Crowd (1957) -- Elia Kazan's fascinating story of a nobody's rise to fame is probably more pertinent today than it was in the late '50s. Griffith portrays a man called "Lonesome" who goes from an aimless bum to a media darling, and that's when the man's true colors start to show. (This movie was produced 40 years before "reality:" television celebrities existed.)
No Time for Sergeants (1958) -- Military comedies are nothing new, of course, and this Mervyn LeRoy flick has enjoyed a relatively solid shelf life for the past few decades. Here Andy Griffith reprises his role (from the Ira Levin play) as a clueless Air Force private who befriends a few knuckleheads and makes life miserable for his domineering sergeant. Formulaic stuff, even for back then, but the material is still pretty funny, and Griffith makes for an affable everyman hero. (Trivia: Don Knotts' movie debut.)
Rustler's Rhapsody (1985) -- This is a weird one, I know, but I saw virtually every movie released in the 1980s, and I remember being quietly pleased by this affectionate western satire. Written and directed by Hugh Wilson (right after his original Police Academy movie blew up), Rustler's Rhapsody is little more than a tongue-in-cheek and family-friendly western farce starring Tom Berenger and Marilu Henner. Hardly a laugh riot in the realm of a Blazing Saddles, but cute and amiable enough. Oh, and Andy Griffith got to play (firmly) against type as an evil land-grabbin' cattle-thievin', mustache-twirlin' villain called Colonel Ticonderoga. (Now I really want to go dig this one up and revisit it.)
Spy Hard (1996) -- It's great when a relatively serious actor does the "straight-faced slapstick" spoof material. Airplane! had Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen. Fatal Instinct had a hilarious performance from Armand Assante, and Cary Elwes is also particularly good at mocking himself for a chuckle. In the frustratingly inconsistent but periodically inspired espionage spoof Spy Hard, Andy Griffith got to go extra broad and silly as the villainous "General Rancor." (Note: I do not consider the goofiness of Spy Hard to be representative of Mr. Griffith's finest work, but these are the films I saw, and he was cool in all of them.)
Waitress (2007) -- This sweet, honest, and very funny film was overshadowed by the murder of writer/director Adrienne Shelley, but Waitress will stand as a testament to the woman's huge heart and impressive storytelling skills -- plus it has a great little role for the aged yet very scrappy Andy Griffith. He plays a grumpy old coot who gives our heroine a hard time at the diner, but his character gets a bit deeper as the film goes on, and Mr. Griffith has a twinkle in his eyes whenever he's on screen. Like he knew Waitress was a good little movie and he was happy to be a part of it.
That's how I like to think of Andy Griffith, anyway.
(Other films that deserve mention, even if I haven't seen them: Onionhead (1958), The Second Time Around (1961), Angel in My Pocket (1969), and Hearts of the West (1975). The man didn't do all that many movies!)