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Network

Year: 1976
Studio: MGM
Director: Sidney Lumet
Producer: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Paddy Chayefsky
Cast: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, obert Duvall, Peter Finch, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight
One of the best movies about business ever made - let alone the TV business. It's got it all; a scruples-free, pathologically driven programming executive who'll do anything to get the to top (Dunaway), the corporate hatchet man whose allegiance is to the board rather than the truth (Duvall), the jaded newsman overwhelmed by the new world where corporate guys are allowed to tell them what to do (Holden).

Throw in some of the best performances on film (including Beatrice Straight - Dr Lesh out of Poltergeist - winning an Oscar despite being on screen for less than two minutes total) and you have a timeless mantra for our times made 30 years ago.

It starts like a modern fable you think will be far removed from reality - when news anchor Howard Beale (Finch, in his last performance for which he won the Oscar posthumously) has descended far from his former glory and it's left to his old friend and news boss Max Schumacher (Holden) to can him when the ratings dive and the moneymen start getting twitchy.

In a move straight out of a seemingly far dumber movie, a despairing Howard goes on air to announce that he'll shoot himself in the head on his last night on air.

The fallout is immediate and everyone from Max to Hackett (Duvall), the company man from the corporation who owns the network, goes into some sort of damage control.

Two things start to happen after the network puts Howard back on amid statements of stress from chronic overwork. He speaks the truth, telling viewers he's sick of the lies and leading the whole country in the iconic line 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!'

It's a cry for action among an America going insane through the threats of spiralling oil prices, an unpopular foreign war, government corruption and streets turning into cesspools of crime and poverty (one of the reasons it's still so pertinent today).

The other thing that happens is that when the public listens, one woman takes their pulse and convinces the network it could be a goldmine for ratings - ruthless programmer Diana (Dunaway), who not only becomes Max's extramarital lover but tells him point blank his kind has had their day and she'll have his job before long.

Howard becomes a sensation, ratings go through the roof, Diana programs increasingly sensationalist TV from increasingly dubious sources (the irony of watching a troupe of gun-toting communist revolutionaries sitting around going through contracts discussing international rights is priceless), Max tries to reign Howard in before his friend loses his mind, and TV goes down the tubes in a spiral that's led directly to Reality TV and infotainment.

For a story about the stifling of the truth, Lumet seems a born newsman, perfectly capturing the manic sensibilities and atmospheres these people surround themselves in. The dialogue is snappy, mature, lines cut off as people fight to interrupt each other and get their piece spoken in the fray.

Not only brilliant in every respect but essential viewing for anyone who's life is affected by the media.

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