Filmsite Movie Review
Network (1976)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Following the funeral services for Edward George Ruddy, Max Schumacher is reacquainted with Diana as she hails a taxi, and they head downtown for a cup of coffee together:

Max: I've thought many times of calling you.
Diana: I wish you had.

According to Diana, Sybil the Soothsayer has continued to predict that she will get more involved "with a craggy, middle-aged man" after their "one many-splendored night." Although she took his news show away, he still can't get her out of his mind. They begin their affair with a weekend together by the beach at the Sea Spray Inn, while Max's wife is out of town with their pregnant daughter in Seattle. Even during intimate moments in the restaurant and afterwards during sex, Diana can't restrain herself from talking enthusiastically about programming challenges regarding the Mao Tse Tung Hour. The troublesome show ("one big pain in the ass") has been placed at eight o'clock with a terrific lead-in from the Howard Beale Show, and the FBI has already served them with a subpoena for the Flagstaff bank rip-off film. She fears that the show cannot be made into a series because "they'll hit us with conspiracy and inducement to commit a crime," since UBS is paying "these nuts from the Ecumenical Liberation Army ten thousand bucks a week in order to turn in authentic film footage of their revolutionary activities." But Diana longs to be sued - it would mean higher ratings:

I said, 'Walter, let the government sue us! Let the federal government sue us. We'll take them to the Supreme Court. We'll be front page for months.' The New York Times and the Washington Post will be writing two editorials a week about us. We'll be front page for months. We'll have more press than Watergate! All I need is six weeks federal litigation, and the 'Mao Tse-tung Hour' can start carrying its own time slot. (She experiences orgasm.) What's really bugging me now is my daytime programming. NBC's got a lock on daytime with their lousy game shows, and I'd like to bust them. I'm thinking of doing a homosexual soap opera. 'The Dykes.' The heart-rending saga about a woman hopelessly in love with her husband's mistress. What do you think?

In a tense scene in their apartment, Max divulges his month-long, obsessive affair with Diana (he calls the relationship "a transient thing" and "a menopausal infatuation") to his wife of twenty-five years, Louise. After his confession, his long-suffering wife berates him for his unfaithfulness and "love" for Diana in a famous, Oscar-winning monologue:

Then get out. Go anywhere you want. Go to a hotel, go live with her, but don't come back! Because, after 25 years of building a home and raising a family and all the senseless pain that we have inflicted on each other, I'm damned if I'm gonna stand here and have you tell me you're in love with somebody else! Because this isn't a convention weekend with your secretary, is it? Or - or some broad that you picked up after three belts of booze. This is your great winter romance, isn't it? Your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years. Is that what's left for me? Is that my share? She gets the winter passion, and I get the dotage? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to sit home knitting and purling while you slink back like some penitent drunk? I'm your wife, damn it! And, if you can't work up a winter passion for me, the least I require is respect and allegiance! (She sobs) I'm hurt! Don't you understand that? I'm hurt badly!

In answer to Louise's question about whether Diana loves him, Max Schumacher tells his wife about Diana's soul-less, amoral, and heartless feelings, and then decides to move out and leave his wife:

I'm not sure she's capable of any real feelings. She's television generation. She learned life from Bugs Bunny. The only reality she knows comes to her from over the TV set. She has very carefully devised a number of scenarios for all of us to play, like a Movie of the Week. And, my God, look at us, Louise. Here we are going through the obligatory middle-of-act-two 'scorned wife throws peccant husband out' scene. But don't worry, I'll come back to you in the end. All of her plot outlines have me leaving her and coming back to you because the audience won't buy a rejection of the happy American family. She does have one script in which I kill myself - an adapted for television version of Anna Karenina where she's Count Vronsky and I'm Anna.

The narrator describes further developments regarding the Mao Tse Tung Hour:

The Mao Tse Tung Hour went on the air March 14th. It received a 47 share. The network promptly committed to fifteen shows with an option for ten more. There were the usual contractual difficulties.

In the farmhouse of the Ecumenical Liberation Army in one of the film's most outrageous scenes, lawyers and agents are discussing lengthy, legalese contracts regarding their interpretations of production fees with Great Ahmed Khan and Laureen. Exploding in anger, Laureen refuses to lower her distribution charges. When Mary Ann Gifford (Kathy Cronkite) and Laureen are embroiled in an argument and Gifford yells "You f--kin' fascist!", Khan fires his pistol into the air to silence both of them: "Man, give her the f--kin' overhead clause!"

In a UBS Affiliates Convention in a major Los Angeles hotel, Nelson Chaney (Wesley Addy), President of the UBS Network, speaks at the spotlighted podium to a dignified group of people in the grand ballroom, introducing Diana Christensen as "the woman behind the Howard Beale Show - we all know she's beautiful, we all know she's brainy." After a thunderous ovation from the audience, she boasts to the affiliates: "We have the number one show in television. And at next year's affiliates' meeting, I'll be standing here telling you we've got the top five. Last year, we were the number four network. Next year, we're number one."

On a TV perched on a bar in the cocktail area of the ballroom, the Howard Beale show is being broadcast. During the show, the "mad prophet" criticizes the growing economic take-over power of Arabs, who are conspiratorially buying up parts of the US. In fact, the conglomerate/corporation that owns Beale's network is tied to Arab interests:

Now you listen to me. And listen carefully, because this is your goddamn life I'm talking about today. In this country, when one company wants to take over another company, they simply buy up a controlling share of the stock. But first, they have to file notice with the government. That's how CCA took over the company that owns this network. But now somebody is buying up CCA. Somebody called the Western World Funding Corporation. They filed the notice this morning. Well, just who in the hell is the Western World Funding Corporation?

It is a consortium of banks and insurance companies who are not buying CCA for themselves but as agents for somebody else. And who is this somebody else? They won't tell you. They won't tell you, they won't tell the Senate, they won't tell the SEC, the FCC, they won't tell the Justice Department, they won't tell anybody. They say it's none of our business. The hell it ain't! I will tell you who they're buying CCA for. They're buying it for the Saudi-Arabian Investment Corporation. They're buying it for the Arabs...

We all know that the Arabs control sixteen billion dollars in this country. They own a chunk of Fifth Avenue, twenty downtown pieces of Boston, a part of the port of New Orleans, an industrial park in Salt Lake City. They own big hunks of the Atlanta Hilton, the Arizona Land and Cattle Company, the Security National Bank in California, the Bank of the Commonwealth in Detroit. They control ARAMCO, so that puts them into Exxon, Texaco, and Mobil Oil. They're all over - New Jersey, Louisville, St. Louis Missouri. And that's only what we know about! There's a hell of a lot more we don't know about because all of the those Arab petro-dollars are washed through Switzerland and Canada and the biggest banks in this country. For example, what we don't know about is this CCA deal and all the other CCA deals. Right now, the Arabs have screwed us out of enough American dollars to come right back and with our own money, buy General Motors, IBM, ITT, AT&T, DuPont, US Steel, and twenty other American companies. Hell, they already own half of England.

So listen to me. Listen to me, god-dammit! The Arabs are simply buying us. There's only one thing that can stop them. You! You! So, I want you to get up now. I want you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the phone. I want you to get up from your chairs, go to the phone, get in your cars, drive into the Western Union offices in town. I want you to send a telegram to the White House. By midnight tonight, I want a million telegrams in the White House. I want them wading knee-deep in telegrams at the White House. I want you to get up right now and write a telegram to President Ford saying: 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore! I don't want the banks selling my country to the Arabs! I want the CCA deal stopped now!' I want the CCA deal stopped now.

Simultaneously, Frank Hackett speaks on the phone with an executive in New York (City) who has become disturbed by the effectiveness of the evening's Howard Beale Show. Frank ends the conversation and watches part of the show at the cocktail bar television. Later, he and other UBS dismayed executives watch a taped replay of the end of the show. After the show's traditional tirade, Howard customarily keels over and collapses on the floor.

Walter Amundsen (Jerome Dempsey), the General Counsel of the Network, is told by Frank Hackett about his knowledge of the CCA deal with the Saudis:

The CCA has two billions in loans with the Saudis. And they hold every pledge we've got. We need that Saudi money bad. A disaster. The show is a disaster. Unmitigated disaster, the death knell. I'm ruined, I'm dead, I'm finished...The SEC could hold this deal up for twenty years if they wanted to. I'm finished...Four hours ago, I was the sun God at CCA, Mr. Jensen's hand-picked golden boy, the heir apparent. Now, I'm a man without a corporation.

And although Howard Beale is "the number one show on television," Hackett is fierce with anger and "wants Howard Beale fired...I'm gonna impale the son of a bitch with a sharp stick through the heart! I'll take out a contract on him. I'll hire professional killers. No, I'll do it myself. I'll strangle him with a sash-cord." Hackett and Beale are summoned back to New York on a red-eye flight to meet with Jensen, the UBS Chairman of the Board. In the CCA Building the next morning, Howard (imbued with madness) accompanies Hackett up the stairs, crying out with his arms upraised: "The final revelation is at hand. I have seen the shattering fulgurations of ultimate clarity. The light is impending! I bear witness to the light!" During introductions with Jensen, Howard tells him: "I'm as mad as a hatter."

The all-consummate corporate pitchman and business magnate Arthur Jensen, an ex-salesman, summons Beale into his imposing conference room ("Valhalla"): "They say I can sell anything. I'd like to try to sell something to you." In one of the best-acted scenes in the film, Jensen devastates Beale with an evangelical lecture - a hypnotic, spell-binding, convincing, God-like oratorical speech (mocking Beale's own style) about the facts of international business and commerce - the corporate mentality. He describes the unimportance of individuals and the overarching omnipotence of currency as the center of the universe:

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it, is that clear?! You think you have merely stopped a business deal - that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians! There are no Arabs! There are no Third Worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane (definition: huge or monstrous), interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic, and subatomic and galactic structure of things today. And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone!

He pauses for a moment - and speaks normally with a question to Beale, but then continues:

Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT and T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon - those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state - Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and mini-max solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this evangel, Mr. Beale.

When Beale asks, "Why me?" Jensen replies: "Because you're on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday. (Beale: "I have seen the face of God.") You just might be right, Mr. Beale."

Terrified, Beale is pressured and forced by Jensen to start preaching about dehumanization and the death of democracy. He returns to the airwaves to preach Jensen's corporate truth, championing corporate rather than individual human rights: "That evening, Howard Beale went on the air to preach the corporate cosmology of Arthur Jensen":

Last night, I got up here and asked you people to stand up and fight for your heritage, and you did, and it was beautiful. Six million telegrams were received at the White House. The Arab takeover of CCA has been stopped. The people spoke, the people won. It was a radiant eruption of democracy. But I think that was it, fellas. That sort of thing is not likely to happen again. Because at the bottom of all our terrified souls, we know that democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick dying, decaying political concept, writhing in its final pain. I don't mean that the United States is finished as a world power. The United States is the richest, the most powerful, the most advanced country in the world, light-years ahead of any other country. And I don't mean the Communists are gonna take over the world because the Communists are deader than we are. What is finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it. It's the individual that's finished. It's the single, solitary human being that's finished. It's every single one of you out there that's finished. Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. It's a nation of some two hundred odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods. Well, the time has come to say is 'dehumanization' such a bad word?' Whether it's good or bad, that's what is so. The whole world is becoming humanoid, creatures that look human but aren't. The whole world, not just us. We're just the most advanced country, so we're getting there first. The whole world's people are becoming mass-produced, programmed, numbered, insensate things...

However, the ratings for the Howard Beale show begin to fall again, now that he has alienated his viewing audience by preaching about the meaningless of their individual lives (and about "dying, democracy, and de-humanization"). The narrator describes the effect upon ratings:

Nobody particularly cared to hear his life was utterly valueless. By the end of the first week in June, the Howard Beale show had dropped one point in the ratings, and its trend of shares dipped under 48 for the first time since last November.

Diana panics: "Another couple of weeks of this and the sponsors will be bailing out." And as time goes on, the relationship and affair between the middle-aged Schumacher and the youthful Diana also starts to fade and turns sour, especially when Max sees her concealed behind a mask of cold cynicism and insensitivity. He feels guilty about the pain and suffering he has caused, senses his impending mortality, and begs for her to express her love:

And I'm tired of finding you on the god-damn telephone every time I turn around. I'm tired of being an accessory in your life! And I'm tired of pretending to write this dumb book about my maverick days in the great early years of television. Every god-damned executive fired from a network in the last twenty years has written this dumb book about the great early years of television. And nobody wants a dumb, damn, god-damn book about the great years of television...After living with you for six months, I'm turning into one of your scripts. Well, this is not a script, Diana. There's some real actual life going on here. I went to visit my wife today because she's in a state of depression, so depressed that my daughter flew all the way from Seattle to be with her. And I feel lousy about that. I feel lousy about the pain that I've caused my wife and my kids. I feel guilty and conscience-stricken and all of those things that you think sentimental but which my generation called simple human decency. And I miss my home because I'm beginning to get scared s--tless. Because all of a sudden, it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning, and death is suddenly a perceptible thing to me - with definable features. You're dealing with a man that has primal doubts, Diana, and you've got to cope with it. I'm not some guy discussing male menopause on the 'Barbara Walters Show'. I'm the man that you presumably love. I'm part of your life. I live here. I'm real. You can't switch to another station...I just want you to love me. I just want you to love me, primal doubts and all. You understand that, don't you?

Diana, raised within the world of ratings and soul-less television scripts, feels no compassion about his real-life script of guilt, pain and his need for love: "I don't know how to do that."

The ratings continue to plummet and the situation is becoming desperate: "By the first week in July, the Howard Beale show was down eleven points. Hysteria swept through the network." Lauren Hobbs rails against Diana for being placed after the Beale show, and for being set-up against competitors on other networks: CBS's Tony Orlando and Dawn, NBC's Little House on the Prairie, and ABC's The Bionic Woman. Programming executives are at a loss - they have no adequate replacements for Beale's time slot.

There are other indications that Diana's and Max's affair is dying when she packs his things for him in her bedroom and announces that she is cancelling 'their' show. Ultimately, they have become emotionally dead to each other:

I think the time has come to re-evaluate our relationship, Max. I don't like the way this script of ours is turning out. It's turning into a seedy little drama. Middle-aged man leaves wife and family for young heartless woman, goes to pot. The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings. I - I don't like it...The simple fact is, Max, that you're a family man. You like a home and kids and that's beautiful. But I am incapable of any such commitment. All you'll get from me is another couple of months of intermittent sex and recriminate and ugly little scenes like the one we had last night. I'm sorry for all those things I said to you last night. You're not the worst f--k I ever had. Believe me, I've had worse. And you don't puff or snorkle and make death-like rattles. As a matter of fact, you're rather serene in the sack.

Max questions her insult of him: "Why is it that a woman always thinks that the most savage thing she can say to a man is to impugn his cocks-manship?" He realizes that he must leave Diana, but shows his concern for her ultimate fate: "You're not the boozer type, so I figure a year, maybe two before you crack up or jump out of your 14th floor office window." Without any capability to provide emotional feedback, she has become "television incarnate" by performing like a vampire that sucks the life out of people:

Diana: I don't want your pain, I don't want your menopausal decay and death! I don't need you, Max.
Max: You need me! You need me badly. Because I'm your last contact with human reality. I love you, and that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day.
Diana: Then don't leave me.
Max: It's too late, Diana. There's nothing left in you that I can live with. You're one of Howard's humanoids, and if I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything that you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. You're television incarnate, Diana, indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death - all the same to you as bottles of beer, and the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You're madness, Diana, virulent madness, and everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure and pain and love. (He kisses her farewell.) And it's a happy ending. Wayward husband comes to his senses, returns to his wife with whom he's established a long and sustaining love. Heartless young woman left alone in her arctic desolation. Music up with a swell. Final commercial. And here are a few scenes from next week's show.

After meeting with Jensen, Hackett has been told to keep Howard Beale on the air with his "very important message to the American people." "With a certain sinister silkiness," Jensen has told Hackett that he doesn't like volatile industries such as television, "in which success and failure were determined week by week." Jensen's "inflexible...intractable and adamantine" position puts Diana and the rest of the network officials "in the s--thouse," since Beale's ratings (Q score) have dropped precipitously in the "core markets." "It is Howard Beale that is the destructive force here," causing a "forty, forty-five million dollar loss in annual revenues."

So in an emergency production meeting, the network officials plot to kill Beale on camera in order to save the network - Diana suggests an idea for a sensational show-opener: "I think I can get the Mao Tse Tung people to kill Beale for us as one of the shows. In fact, it'll make a helluva kick-off show for the season." As they conspire together to commit "a capital crime" by killing "the son of a bitch" (Diana's exact words), a long line of waiting audience members parade into the UBS Building toward the studio and their seats in the audience area.

In the final shocking scene, after the Howard Beale segment is introduced, the news anchor is gunned down by two revolutionary radicals in the audience who had been hired by the network to do away with him. Beale pitches backwards from the impact of multiple bullet wounds - bloodied.

[Note: A number of reputable sources have claimed that one of the revolutionary assassins was an uncredited and young actor named Tim Robbins, who would have been 17 at the time. However, Robbins publicly stated that he did not appear in the film. In a NY Times interview with Maureen Dowd on Feb. 3, 2018, Robbins was asked to confirm or deny the statement: "You killed Howard Beale." He replied: "I deny that. That’s a pretty pervasive rumor, and I wish it were true because a lot of people say my first movie was Network and that’s a pretty damn good way to start. That guy looks a lot like me, but no, I was only 17 at the time and I hadn’t even started in the business."]

Jack Snowden, a newsman substituting for Howard Beale, is displayed on one of four monitors on a bank of TV screens as he delivers the news story. Snowden's words are dwarfed by simultaneously running commercials (including Canada Dry's Bitter Lemon drink ("We never compromise, so why should you? Canada Dry Mixers. Why compromise?"), and the famous Life cereal commercial ("Let's get Mikey to try it. He won't eat it. He hates everything...He likes it! He likes it!")):

...the network news anchorman on the UBS Network News Show, known to millions as 'the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves,' was shot to death tonight in a fusilade of automatic rifle fire just as he began this evening's broadcast...The extraordinary incident occurred in full view of his millions of viewers. The assassins were members of a terrorist group called the Ecumenical Liberation Army, two of whom were apprehended. The leader of the group, known as the Great Ahmed Khan, escaped.

The narrator adds a final epitaph:

This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.

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