From "A Face in the Crowd" to "Waitress," his folksy charm shone through
But in a career that spanned over 60 years and encompassed stage, movies and television, Griffith played everything from an amoral celebrity in "A Face in the Crowd" to an irascible diner owner in "Waitress." He could portray lovable country bumpkins better than anybody, but he could hit darker notes as well.
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Here's a look at some of his finest moments on screen.
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
As Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a drifter who rises to become a television phenomenon thanks to his folksy charm and populist appeal, Griffith was chilling. Deeply amoral, yet compelling, Rhodes presaged a generation of talk-show egomaniacs like Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck and symbolized the corrupting influence of fame.
It marked his film debut with no less a director than Elia Kazan ("On the Waterfront"), but the youthful Griffith gives the sort of riveting performance that would elude even a seasoned screen actor. He never portrayed someone as morally shady again, but what he accomplished here is scary and decades ahead of its time.
No Time for Sergeants (1958)
It may surprise viewers who know him best as the wily Ben Matlock, but Griffith could play dumb with the best of them. Look no further than the army comedy "No Time for Sergeants," his biggest box-office hit.
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As dimwitted country boy Will Stockdale, Griffith nearly brings the armed forces to its knees due to his staggeringly low IQ. The film also marked the first screen pairing of the actor with Don Knotts, who would go on to play hapless deputy Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show." In this clip, the roles are reversed, with Griffith providing the bumbling antics that would become Knotts' comic staple on the long-running show.
The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68)
As Andy Taylor, Griffith showed he was one of the most generous performers on television. He anchored the show by providing an understated counterbalance to the antics of Knotts' Fife and Jim Nabors' Gomer Pyle, and in the process he allowed them to get many of the biggest laughs. But it's doubtful the show would have worked as well if not for his priceless reactions.
That formula is fully on display in "Mr. McBeevee," a 1962 episode that finds Sheriff Taylor having difficulty accepting his son's (Ron Howard) description of a new friend.
Griffith's Ben Matlock had the same thick Southern accent and folksy turn of phrase as Andy Taylor, but that's where the similarities ended. Matlock was worldly and whip-smart attorney, but he was also, in Griffith's words, "vain" and "cheap."
In a 1998 interview with Michael Rosen for the Archive of American Television, Griffith said that he never worried about the legal accuracy of his court room behavior, he just wanted to be "funny." Mission accomplished.
As a gruff but endearing diner owner in this comedy-drama, Griffith gave one of his final on-screen performances, but also one of his richest. The actor gives a monologue about the importance of pie-making that is emotionally resonant and perfectly pitched, standing alongside his best work.
Just look at how his co-stars Keri Russell and Cheryl Hinds gush about his acting and the depth of experience he brought to the tiny indie gem in this on-set interview timed to the film's release.