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Jack Burden is a newspaper reporter who first hears of Willie Stark when his editor sends him to Kanoma County to cover the man. What's special about this nobody running for county treasurer? He's supposedly an honest man. Burden discovers this to be true when he sees Stark delivering a speech and having his son pass out handbills, while the local politicians do their best to intimidate him. Willie Stark is honest and brave. He's also a know-nothing hick whose schoolteacher wife has given him what little education he has. Stark loses the race for treasurer, but later makes his way through law school, becoming an idealistic attorney who fights for what is good. Someone in the governor's employ remembers Stark when the governor needs a patsy to run against him and split the vote of his rival. The fat cats underestimate Stark; but Jack Burden, Stark's biggest supporter, overestimates the man's idealism. To get where he wants to go, Willie Stark is willing to crack a few eggs - which ... Written by
Producer-director Robert Rossen offered the role of Willie Stark to John Wayne. Rossen sent a copy of the script to Wayne's agent, Charles K. Feldman, who forwarded it to Wayne. After reading the script, Wayne sent it back with an angry letter attached. In it, he told Feldman that before he sent the script to any of his other clients, he should ask them if they wanted to star in a film that "smears the machinery of government for no purpose of humor or enlightenment," that "degrades all relationships," and that is populated by "drunken mothers; conniving fathers; double-crossing sweethearts; bad, bad, rich people; and bad, bad poor people if they want to get ahead." He accused Rossen of wanting to make a movie that threw acid on "the American way of life." If Feldman had such clients, Wayne wrote that the agent should "rush this script... to them." Wayne, however, said to the agent that "You can take this script and shove it up Robert Rossen's derrière . . . " Wayne later remarked that "To make Huey Long a wonderful, rough pirate was great . . . but, according to this picture, everybody was shit--except for this weakling intern doctor who was trying to find a place in the world." Broderick Crawford, who had played a supporting role in Wayne's Seven Sinners (1940), eventually received the part of Stark. In a bit of irony, Crawford was Oscar-nominated for the part of Stark and found himself competing against Wayne, who was nominated the same year for Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). Crawford won the Best Actor Oscar, giving Rossen the last laugh. See more »
During the exchange of gunfire at the end of the movie, the man returning fire on the one who shot Willie Stark fires at least ten bullets from a six-shot revolver. See more »
You wanna know what my platform is? Here it is. I'm gonna soak the fat boys and spread it out thin.
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Robert Rossen (The Hustler) had better luck with the story of Louisiana's Governor Huey Long as he managed to capture every Best Director award he was nominated for except the Oscar.
The picture did win the Best Picture Award for my birth year, and the acting awards went to Broderick Crawford (Governor Stark/Long) and Mercedes McCambridge.
The corruption of power, the sleaziness of the political process, the willingness of people to be used are all explored in this moving film. Again, as in the Hustler, Rossen uses the black and white medium to its full effectiveness as he presents a taut and moving study of the rise of Stark/Long and his downfall.
"Jack, there's something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption. He passes from the stink of the dydie to the stench of the shroud. There's ALWAYS something."
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