Andy Griffith (1926-2012) is best known for his television work, specifically The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68) and Matlock (1986-95). But Griffith appeared in films as well – both theatrical and made-for-TV – making his motion picture debut in A Face in the Crowd (1957). Here are Andy Griffith's ten best movie characters.
Andy Griffith as Private Will Stockdale, No Time for Sergeants (Warner Bros., 1958)
Griffith reprises his role of Will Stockdale from the original Broadway play and television production, the latter of which first aired on The United States Steel Hour (3/15/55). Will, a country bumpkin from the back hills, is drafted into the United States Air Force where he experiences extreme culture shock. Giving him an especially hard time is fellow recruit Irving S. Blanchard (Murray Hamilton), whom Will eventually tangles with during training. When the naive Will is made Permanent Latrine Orderly (PLO) by the lazy Sergeant Orville C. King (Myron McCormick), he considers it an honor until his friend Ben Whitledge (Nick Adams) wizens him up. Griffith is a riot as the grinning hillbilly draftee, telling his buddy in one scene, "Hey, Ben. Maybe you'll get to like the Air Force. Zoomin' all over the sky – and shouting, 'Roger' and "Wilco' and everything. Maybe it won't be so bad." Look for Don Knotts as Corporal John C. Brown, who gives Will a dexterity test.
Lobby card, l-r: Myron McCormick, Don Knotts, Andy Griffith in No Time for Sergeants (1958) - Heritage Auction Galleries
Andy Griffith as Alvin Woods, Onionhead (Warner Bros., 1958)
Griffith plays Alvin "Al" Woods in this popular service comedy-drama directed by Norman Taurog. This time around Griffith's character is in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he serves as a ship's cook during World War II. When executive officer Higgins (Ray Danton) complains of hair in the food, Woods abruptly shaves his head, acquiring the nickname "Onionhead." Felicia Farr, Walter Matthau, James Gregory and Joey Bishop also appear. "This was one of the main reasons I joined the United States Coast Guard in 1976 and retired in 2006. I was 10 years old when I saw the movie and have been remembering it every day since," reported gwleefltr at The Internet Movie Data Base (3/30/08).
One sheet movie poster: Andy Griffith in Onionhead (1958) - Heritage Auction Galleries
Andy Griffith as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, A Face in the Crowd (Warner Bros., 1957)
In his film debut Griffith plays Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a backwoods guitar player who vaults to radio and TV fame when he's discovered by entertainment executive Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal). The wily Rhodes' public image is that of a humble Ozark Mountains hillbilly who adores his fans. His private life, however, is something vastly different, as he proves to be a scheming, greedy, egotistical womanizer with political ambitions. Griffith gets to strut his musical stuff in this one, performing "Free Man in the Morning," "Just Plain Folks," "Mama Guitar" and "Old Fashioned Marriage." Added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2008, A Face in the Crowd, written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan, garnered some favorable reviews. "...Mr. Schulberg has penned a powerful person of the raw, vulgar, roughneck, cornball breed, and Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor, under the guidance of Mr. Kazan," reported Bosley Crowther of The New York Times (5/29/57).
Lobby card: Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal in A Face in the Crowd (1957) - Heritage Auction Galleries
Andy Griffith as Reverend Samuel D. Whitehead, Angel in My Pocket (Universal, 1969)
Griffith stars as Rev. Samuel D. Whitehead, a recent seminary graduate who takes his first assignment at the Church of the Redeemer in Wood Falls, Kansas. Along with his wife Mary Elizabeth (Lee Meriwether) and family, the good reverend arrives in town, only to be greeted by a bruising, no-holds-barred mayoral campaign, a family feud and a church in need of major repairs. Griffith gets good support from Jerry Van Dyke as his boozing, shiftless brother-in-law and Kay Medford as his meddlesome mother-in-law. Angel in My Pocket was the first film in a three-picture deal Griffith had inked with Universal, but the actor was so disappointed in the final product that he opted not to make the remaining two movies. "This perspiring little package, with Andy Griffith as a spunky, small-town minister battling hypocrisy, selfishness and meanness, is clean, good-natured and often amusing. It also happens to be strictly formula entertainment..." offered Howard Thompson of The New York Times (4/3/69)
Andy Griffith as Colonel Ticonderoga, Rustlers' Rhapsody (Paramount, 1985)
Griffith plays Colonel Ticonderoga in this fantasy comedy-western in which squeaky-clean singing cowboy Rex O'Herlihan (Tom Berenger) comes riding in from the 1930s. In the town of Oakwood Estates, the crusading O'Herlihan takes on the evil ranchers, headed by the villainous Colonel Ticonderoga. Griffith has a field day as the gay, homophobic cattle baron in this western spoof, with Sela Ward as his daughter, G.W. Bailey as the town drunk, Marilu Henner as the dance hall girl and Fernando Rey as the railroad baron. When Jim (Brant von Hoffman) brings a dead body back to the ranch, Griffith's Ticonderoga speaks his mind, "Let me just ask you one question. There's one thing I'm most curious about. Why bring the body here? My god, this is a home! People live here!"
Andy Griffith as Sam Farragut, Pray for the Wildcats (ABC-TV, 1974)
Griffith stars as Sam Farragut, a twisted businessman who induces three advertising agency executives (William Shatner, Robert Reed, Marjoe Gortner) to join him in a perilous dirt bike journey into Baja California in order to win his favor. The pretext of the trip involves location hunting for a planned TV commercial, but Farragut has other ideas, turning the venture into his small, private, Fantasy Island-type vacation. Griffith's Farragut is one mean SOB in this made-for-TV flick, showing his true colors when he solicits a young man at a bar in Mexico, offering him cash in exchange for sex with his girlfriend.
Andy Griffith as John Wallace, Murder in Coweta County (CBS-TV, 1983)
Griffith plays the real-life John Wallace, a rich, powerful land baron who commits murder in neighboring Coweta County, Georgia. Pursuing the elusive Wallace is Coweta County Sheriff Lamar Potts (Johnny Cash) who, despite his quarry's wealth and influence, eventually sees justice triumph. Griffith is chilling as the morally bankrupt Wallace, defiant to the end as he sits in Georgia's electric chair with head shaven and electrodes attached, seemingly confident that he will be pardoned at any moment. When Sheriff Potts drops by hours before the execution and asks Wallace if there's anything he needs, the cocky death row inmate replies, "Ya mean, like a fancy last meal? No, I wouldn't want you to go hunting fried chicken and strawberry pie today, and then, tomorrow I wind up eating supper at my own house. It ain't gonna happen, they ain't gonna kill me. There'll be a phone call, always has been."
Andy Griffith as Horton Madec, Savages (ABC-TV, 1974)
Griffith plays Horton Madec, a wealthy Los Angeles attorney who hires young Ben Campbell (Sam Bottoms) as a guide for a Bighorn Sheep hunt in the Mojave Desert. But when Madec "accidentally" kills an old prospector, blowing him away with his high-powered rifle, he plans to eliminate Ben as well. Forcing Ben to strip down to his shorts, Madec sends the guide on his way, thinking he will soon die of exposure in the harsh climate. But in order to make sure, the sadistic Madec tracks Ben, eventually cornering him on a butte. "You're really enjoying this," Ben tells Madec during their game. "I'm a hunter, Ben," comes back the chilling reply.
Andy Griffith as Sheriff Sam McNeill, Winter Kill (ABC-TV, 1974)
Griffith stars as lawman Sam McNeill, the sheriff of Eagle Lake, California, a mountain ski resort. When a serial killer stakes out the town as his personal feeding ground, the beleaguered McNeill goes to work, hoping to stop the murderer before the impatient town council has him replaced. John Larch, Tim O'Connor, Lawrence Pressman, Charles Tyner, Sheree North and Nick Nolte also appear. This ABC Movie of the Week later morphed into the short-lived TV series Adams of Eagle Lake (1975), with Griffith starring as Sheriff Sam Adams.
On DVD: Andy Griffith in Winter Kill (1974) - Warner Bros.
Andy Griffith as Ash Robinson, Murder in Texas (NBC-TV, 1981)
In this true story Griffith plays Ash Robinson, the patriarch of a wealthy Houston family. When plastic surgeon Dr. John Hill (Sam Elliott) becomes a suspect in the sudden death of Ash's daughter and Hill's first wife, Joan Robinson Hill (Farrah Fawcett), Ash becomes obsessed in seeking the truth. Griffith earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Special. The infamous Robinson case was the subject of several books, including Ann Kurth's Prescription: Murder (1976) and Tommy Thompson's Blood and Money (1976).
Ten More Memorable Andy Griffith Movie Roles
- As Priest, Go Ask Alice (1973)
- As Abel Marsh, Deadly Game (1977)
- As Artie Sawyer, The Strangers in 7A (1972)
- As Gus Brenner, Street Killing (1976)
- As Victor Worheide, Fatal Vision (1984)
- As Judge Julius Sullivan, Crime of Innocence (1985)
- As Noah Talbot, Under the Influence (1986)
- As Andy Taylor, Return to Mayberry (1986)
- As O.T. Montgomery, Daddy and Them (2001)
- As Abel Marsh, The Girl in the Empty Grave (1977)
- Andy Griffith as Will Stockdale in No Time for Sergeants (1958) - Warner Bros.
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.