With a powerful performance from Peter Finch, the satirical Network is relevant more so today than upon the theatrical release back in 1976.
When Union Broadcasting System news president Max Schumacher (William Holden) informs Howard Beale (Peter Finch) that ratings will force Howard off the air, they talk about how things have changed within the industry. UBS Evening News‘ ratings are on the decline and just like today, if you can’t get the ratings, you’re outta there! This leaves Howard no choice but to go live on television and announce his suicide the following Tuesday. If not for Max, Howard would be out of a job. Even as he promises to apologize and change, another outburst leads to a ratings spike. Again, ratings equal gold. Howard gets an extended stay.
Programming department head Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) thinks that Howard can be a hit. While Max turns down one offer, he starts an affair. His wife, Louise (Beatrice Straight), won’t react kindly to this piece of news later. In any event, Max puts an end to angry Howard on the air. Diana is having none of this and approaches her boss, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall). Hackett has a way with the other UBS execs so Max is out of a job. All of this is leading up to the monologue that single-handedly gave Peter Finch his Oscar for Best Actor: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Out of his role as a news anchor, Howard is soon off to host The Howard Beale Show. It’s not meant to be however as Howard learns that UBS owner Communications Corporation of America (CCA) is soon to be purchased by a Saudi conglomerate. Outraged, Beale goes on another tirade, yelling “I want the CCA deal stopped now!” As you can imagine, the UBS execs are having none of it! CCA chairman Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) meets with Howard in hopes of putting a stop to this. It doesn’t go well so they bring in the Ecumenical Liberation Army to kill Howard.
I don’t know what it says about Paddy Chayefsky but his script could be written in this era. This speaks to just how smartly-written the script is. Think about it if you will. This is a script that speaks to the rise of reality programming. By allowing Howard Beale to go on these epic on-air rants, UBS could very well be FOX News today. Howard could literally be any of the FOX News anchors being allowed to go on on-air rants. If not FOX, then another network.
Peter Finch is top-notch in his role of Howard Beale. All the performances are great but Peter Finch manages to hit it out of the park with his performance. Honestly, I’ve read the list of actors considered for the roles but none could provide justice in the same way. I’ve seen way too many Cary Grant comedies to even imagine him in the role. When we talk about best actor, what I ask myself is this: could anyone else play the role in the same way? Could you remove this person, recast the role, and have a similar performance? If the answer is no, you’ve got the answer right there.
Behind the camera, Sidney Lumet is an absolute master at the craft. Honestly, everything about this film takes it into masterpiece territory. This shows exactly why no list is complete without Network when we talk about the great works of cinema. One can pick any film nominated for Best Picture in 1976 and any film could have won. Network, like many of the other nominees, has managed to withstand the test of time.
Aided by a strong combination of things, Network might have been created as a satire but one can argue that Paddy Chayefsky saw the future.
DIRECTOR: Sidney Lumet
SCREENWRITER: Paddy Chayefsky
CAST: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer opened Network on November 27, 1976. Network is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.