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You know what I really appreciated about this political story? The
filmmakers went overboard NOT to paint the main character as either a
Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal. It winds up, then,
being more a human-interest story. In other words, there was no
political agenda....unlike most films, especially in the last 50 years.
At any rate, Broderick Crawford does an outstanding job portraying the self- proclaimed "hick" Willie Starks, who rises from nothing to become governor of a state and then gets carried away with power and ego.
Mercedes McCambridge is equally riveting as one of his aides. She was a great actress, one of the most intense females I've ever seen on film. I'm sorry she didn't achieve stardom and make more movies than she did. She certainly had the talent. In fact, she won an Academy Award for this performance.
John Ireland also does very well here as another person helping "Willie." Add some good cinematography and you have a fascinating film start-to-finish. I look forward to viewing it again.
While I admit that CITIZEN KANE portrays the corruption of power better than
any motion picture ever made, let's also be fair, because any Hollywood
movie will suffer when compared with it. A more appropriate comparison
would be the recent docudrama of Huey Long, KINGFISH. While John Goodman is
excellent as Long and the movie worthwhile, it reveals just how good a film
ALL THE KING'S MEN is.
Of course, Robert Rossen's picture has a drab look. It should. It suggests the drab appearance of most U.S. states (anyone who has visited Kansas will know why Dorothy and L. Frank Baum wanted to go over the rainbow) and the use of common townsfolk rather than Hollywood extras adds to this look, as do the drab locations (check out something like the Marlon Brando movie THE CHASE, a movie that should have a drab look, but instead looks like a glossy Hollywood backlot). Thank God Columbia, a studio that loved locations because it had no back lot, financed this movie!
I wouldn't call this film realistic, but I've read the pulitzer prize winning novel, and I wouldn't call it realistic either. Every page brims with beautifully poetic language which the movie often incorporates and which Rossen makes sound more like natural conversation than it really is. Compared to the book, the film, I think, reveals its real weaknesses: it does simplify moral issues and also reduces some of the characters to the level of melodrama (Willie Stark, in the novel, resembles more someone like Andy Griffith's character in A FACE IN THE CROWD: a charming good ole boy you want to love, but who will knife you in the back the next minute). Broderick Crawford, with his Bronx accent, hardly suggests either a hayseed or, as he calls himself "a hick," but he has a bullying power that I think is brilliant for the role. Personally, I'm glad neither Spencer Tracy nor John Wayne (both of whom Rossen wanted) got the part.
And I think this movie holds up very well, even in our post-Watergate era of cynical politics: like the novel, it shows how the populist leader can easily be a tyrant. This message is not in CITIZEN KANE: the lofty Kane was never one of the people; he just wanted to be one of the people. Considering how much Hollywood in the era of Harry Truman embraced the populist sentiment with the films of John Ford and Frank Capra, considering that dictators like a Hitler and a Stalin like to present themselves as one of the people and enjoyed popular support, considering how much Americans love politicians who are charming rather than substantial, I'd say Rossen's film hasn't dated at all.
Broderick Crawford always said that the greatest thing about winning
the Oscar and the acclaim that goes with it for his performance of
Willie Stark was that it broadened his casting potential. For a dozen
years or so he played nothing but dumb henchmen and sidekicks to
various star. He was quoted as saying he was not the world's greatest
wit, but he hated always playing half a one. Though he eventually
returned back to the ranks of featured performers, the Oscar for Best
Actor in 1949 assured him better roles the rest of his life.
Of course Crawford's Oscar was not the only one that the film got. It was also the Best Picture of 1949 and in her screen debut, Mercedes McCambridge got the Best Supporting Actress nod. McCambridge was maybe the toughest woman ever portrayed on film so far, a hard nosed political operative who's carrying an empress size torch for Crawford who can't see her in that way at all.
As I said before All the King's Men though suggested by the life of Huey Long is not that life at all. Willie Stark is his own unique character. For one thing the unnamed state that All the King's Men took place in is not necessarily the American south. If it were you might see a black face or two in the film. Huey Long in his rise to power in Louisiana used economic populism in his rise to power. He did not like the race issue, felt it was not the future for the south. In that he was far seeing, but if he had to, Long could race bait with the best.
Do you remember in Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams has Stanley Kowalski reference Huey Long by telling Stella and Blanche in no uncertain terms like Huey Long says, he's king in his own castle. Streetcar is set in New Orleans and Williams well knew the power of the Long name in Louisiana.
Secondly, Stark's family consists of his wife, adopted son, and father who lives with them. Or rather lives on the old homestead as Stark decides that plain Jane Anne Seymour ain't quite what he needs for a first lady of the state. Although Huey Long was not a model husband to Rose McConnell Long, he never would have thought of divorcing her and leaving her with their three children for a nano-second.
Long's family also consisted of a lot of brothers, eight in fact. Huey's brother Earl was three times Governor of Louisiana and his life story is told in the film Blaze with Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovitch. Huey's son Russell unlike being a crippled football hero as John Derek is here was elected at the age of 30 to the United States Senate in 1948 after World War II service with admittedly not any qualifications other than his name. But that name in Louisiana is to this day mighty potent and Russell Long had a distinguished career in the U.S. Senate for over 40 years. In fact when Huey was assassinated in 1935 and Rose McConnell Long received a temporary appointment to fill his seat, the Long family established a unique record of father, mother, and child to serve in the U.S. Senate. And a bunch of Long brothers and other relatives held various elective posts in Louisiana for generations.
Like Long however Stark is a self made man with an all consuming passion to get ahead in life. He was born in the most humble of circumstances to a piney woods sharecropper family and lifted himself up to be Governor of his state with national ambitions. And like Long, Stark establishes a political machine in his state that bordered on fascism.
Which is why the novel by Robert Penn Warren sold so well in 1947. Maybe it took a war with fascism to educate the American public as to exactly what Huey Long might have represented in the Thirties. Didn't matter in Louisiana though because Earl Long was elected in 1948 to one of his terms as governor as was Russell to the Senate.
All the King's Men entertains us with a fascination for the characters created by Warren and brought to the screen so vividly by Director Robert Rossen. The whole film is narrated and seen through the eyes of John Ireland who as a reporter discovered Stark running for local office in his backwoods county. Ireland was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor in what was probably his career role, but lost to Dean Jagger for Twelve O'Clock High.
At the time he was married to Joanne Dru who is also in the film and she was grateful to not be doing another western. She plays Ireland's love who later falls for Stark. As Henry Kissinger said about his romantic success, "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac" and I think Rossen was trying to prove it here. She got her career role here as did her brother Sheppard Strudwick who alone sees Stark for what he is.
It will be interesting to see if the new version of All the King's Men measures up to this one.
Story of Willie Stark, who starts out running for an Assemblyman in the south up against the local political machine, who eventually rises to governor of his state supported by the machine and every interest, Stark originally set out to fight, in the meanwhile ruining the lives of his family & associates. Crawford is very powerful in his role as Stark, delivering a very convincing performance. McCambridge is also excellent as Stark's conniving political aide (and mistress), Ireland effective as the reporter, from whom the story is viewed. Very good direction by Rossen, who turns the likeable Stark, into a despicable fink by the film's end. Sharp editing also by Clark. Nice moral play to watch. Rating, 10.
There are lots of movies about the rise of some obscure person into the
celebrity life, and the person turns out to be an ambitious and
unscrupulous phony. Some of them are pretty good -- "Citizen Kane,"
"All About Eve." Some are mediocre -- "Keeper of the Flame." This is
one of the best.
The acting honors generally go to Broderick Crawford and he's not bad. He's rather like a switch who can toggle either into thoughtful candor or blustering Hickhood. (He used the latter persona to good effect as a New Jersey junk man later.) He also had a third position, the incredibly dumb goof, which he never used after becoming a serious actor, but see, "Larceny, Incorporated" for an example of what I mean.
If there's a problem with the script it's not his fault, although it involves his character. Hung over, still a bit drunk, Crawford steps on stage and instead of his usual boring "tax" speech he gives a redneck-rousing go-getter. And he never changes after that. Rather too quick a transition.
The direction is very good. There's a scene in which Mercedes McCambridge enters the hotel room in which John Ireland has been cooped up for four days in a depressed state. "Whew, lots of smoke," she says. "And lots of whiskey." The scene is almost perfectly staged, with Ireland crumpled on the bed in the foreground and reaching for his liquor out of the frame, while McCambridge busies herself emptying ash trays in the background and staring at her face in the mirror. "Smallpox," she says. (She's not nearly as attractive as Crawford's new girl friend, JoAnne Dru, nee Joanne Letitia LaCock, a name that could have come straight out of Andy Warhol's Factory.) Everyone's acting is quite up to par. It's John Ireland's best role. He was never Hollwyood-handsome with those squished up eyes, that deep hole between them, and that protruding nose beneath.
But the honors really should go to Mercedes McCambridge. Robert Rossen, the director, allows her a few seconds here and there to be unique. When Ireland slaps her face hard, she doesn't cry. She replies with a mixture of contempt and not entirely displeased surprise at having provoked him to violence. And that little speech about smallpox as she compares her face in the mirror to the glamorized portrait of Joanne Dru.
I won't go on, I don't think. If you haven't seen this, you really ought to. So should everyone inside the Beltway. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That's been attributed so often to Lord Acton that I'm beginning to believe he said it.
All the King's Men was a gutsy film in its day, and wonder of wonders it
still plays this way after all these years. It's probably, with the
exception of Beat the Devil, the most ragged film to ever achieve classic
status. Directed by Robert Rossen, adapted from a novel by Robert Penn
Warren, and strikingly photographed in cinema verite style by Burnett
Guffey, it tells the story of the rise and fall of a Huey Long-like
politician who starts out as a good guy, if a bit of a bully, and winds up a
very bad guy, and even more of a bully, as he takes political control of his
There are dozens of things wrong with the movie. It feels rushed, as if edited down from a much longer film. The editing creates an uncomfortable, jarring effect that makes it difficult at times not only to watch the movie but to follow it. It has some dreadful acting among many of its major players, while several of the smaller roles are quite well cast with interesting faces, which creates a tantalizing effect, as if the good stuff, the interesting inside dope stuff that we really want to know about, is too hot for the movie to handle, so we have to settle for a glance, a gesture, a heavy overcoat, and draw our conclusions accordingly. There's a cheap look to the film, not only in scenes where things are supposed to look shabby, like ramshackle farmhouses, but in the mansions of the rich and the governor's office. Nor is there much specificity in the movie. In the novel the state was clearly Southern, while in the movie it could just as well be California or Illinois. And the frenetic pace of the film seems tied to the staccato delivery of Broderick Crawford in the leading role, as if Crawford himself had produced, directed and written the movie to fit his personal idiosyncrasies like a glove.
As luck would have it, these 'wrong' things make All the King's Men work better than a smoother, fancier, more refined approach could ever have done. Its newsreel intensity makes it feel real. The bad performances by relatively unknown actors likewise gives their characters the effect of being actual people who, after all don't always behave or speak as they ought to. In the unattractive sets we see things that look like life rather than movie life, as rich men's homes are not always pleasing to behold, and state capitals and court houses often have a rundown look. Brod Crawford plays his role as a grade B heavy, with perhaps a scintilla more charm, and his bull-necked King Of Alcatraz style of acting suits his character well; and if one finds Crawford too typically a Hollywood bad guy I recommend the documentary film Point Of Order, in which Sen. Joe McCarthy, with no dramatic training whatsoever, could well be Crawford's soul-mate, or at the very least his brother.
Why do these elements work so well in All the King's Men and not in other movies, where a mess is just a mess? I think the political nature of the film made it controversial from the get-go. It probably was severely edited to take out 'offensive' material (i.e. anything that might appear to reflect badly on an actual person). The quick, driving pace gives the film at times the sensibility of a tabloid, certainly not Rossen's intent, but luckily this let's-rip-the-lid-off-of-everything feeling that the movie just naturally has suggests perhaps an even deeper problem at the core of its story than just one crazy man's ambitions gone wild, and as a result the film is in many places suggestive, and seems profound when what lies behind this impression is perhaps a deliberate vagueness on the part of Rosson & Co., which in turn forces the viewer to try to sort things out for himself, using the movie as a series of signposts, and what results is a more profound experience than the film itself: the film one plays in one's mind.
Recently I saw a pretty uninteresting movie, All the King's Men,
starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, and Kate Winslet. I
wasn't that impressed and I was embarrassed to see that it was actually
a remake, I didn't realize there was another classic out there that had
won best picture. But when I saw the remake, I was kinda scared to see
this version due to the fact that maybe I was just not into the story,
but it turned out to not only be a good film, but a great one that had
no need to be a remake almost 60 years later.
Willie Stark is a crooked lawyer who decides to run for senator, swearing up and down the people that he is just like them and making crazy promises, he gets elected and finds that it's harder than he realized to keep those promises. Things start to fall apart more and more when his son gets into some serious trouble causing bad press, the people are not satisfied with his duties, and his marriage begins to fall apart as well eventually leading up to a horrific ending to his term when he is threatened with impeachment.
All the King's Men, the original, is a great movie that I would recommend for the classic lovers. The remake, trust me, it isn't worth watching, but in some sick way I am grateful for it, because I would have never had the opportunity to see this film. We have terrific performances and a great story that anyone could get into, not to mention the Oscar praise it got was well deserved. Sit back and enjoy the movie, the classics are always worth it.
I viewed this film for the first time this past week. It was one of
only a few "Best Picture" Oscar winners over the past fifty or sixty
years that I had not previously seen. I have found most, but not all,
of these films to be absorbing and/or entertaining with the majority
deserving of the awards they received. I included this specific film in
a personal test that I conducted recently. I initially viewed the
current version of this film, which features an impressive cast headed
up by Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Anthony Hopkins. Then I
rented this 1949 award winner to compare both versions.
I am aware that when you first see a film or program that you find to be an excellent presentation and then you view a newer version of the same entity, the normal tendency is to find the new version not up to the standards of the original due to the unfairly high expectations. For the test conducted, I switched viewing order of the two versions. I anticipated finding the newer version more rewarding due to the more than half century difference in the two presentations and the fact that Sean Penn and Anthony Hopkins have each artistically created several roles which I have found to be top of the line performances. It did not work out that way in this case. I found the 1949 version withstood the test of time and in my opinion was the superior production. This had to do with several factors, the primary one being that the screen play of the older version seemed to be better paced and the presentation flowed more evenly. I believe this version more closely followed the novel and the depiction of the central character "Willie Stark". The novel loosely based this character on real life Louisiana politician "Huey Long". I concluded that the newer version tried to capture more of Longs' character along with his political successes and failures. In doing so it lost some of the novels flow and impact.
Both versions have excellent casts and the performances given by both Sean Penn and Broderick Crawford (Oscar winning) as Willie Stark are first rate. I consider this version to be a top 25 all time political drama and gave it an 8 out of 10 IMDb rating, but I would recommend both versions for fans of semi-biographical political dramas.
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."
Every dog has his day. Broderick Crawford (sometimes remembered for the TV series "Highway Patrol") hit the zenith of his career with an Oscar winning performance. As Willie Stark he reeks of the abuse of power we have seen in the year's since. Never again does Crawford turn himself loose in a role that was really written for him. (In Highway Patrol all the chases were shot on private land - Crawford's driving license was revoked for numerous DUI infractions). You can't leave out Mercedes McCambridge. She is the perfect second lead. Her performance is filled with depth. Mercedes is the role model for today's woman. Tough yet filled with compassion. She and Crawford provide sensation entertainment without one frame of CGI. If you haven't seen this film, rent it, buy it or go to a retrospective. Your film going life is incomplete without a viewing.
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