All The King’s Men (1949) Review

All The King’s Men (1949) Director: Robert Rossen

“There is something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”
-Willie Stark


All The King’s Men is an enjoyable noir-esque interpretation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It was shot across several locations in California including in the San Joaquin Valley. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and it won three: Best Picture, Best Actor (Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark -his most famous role), and Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge). The role of Willie Stark was offered to John Wayne, but he predictably and indignantly declined stating that the film was unpatriotic -Crawford won Best Actor beating John Wayne for his role in Sands of Iowa Jima.

“You can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs… or heads…”

There is an amusing story about how Robert Rossen’s footage was shot haphazardly in a confusing manner. Apparently the film was saved on the cutting room floor in the editing process in order to make it into a coherent narrative. The plot fades in and out of a variety of scenes that tell the rise of Willie Stark, the bombastic populist politician who wins over the voters of Louisiana to become Governor. The story is loosely based on the controversial rise of Huey Long, the Governor of Louisiana in the 1930s. The narrator in the film, as in the novel, is the jaded former newspaper reporter Jack Burden (played by John Ireland). Jack Burden joins Willie’s campaign for Governor and he soon begins compromising his own values in order to serve Willie’s bloated and corrupt career. Jack hunts down dirt on a prominent judge from his hometown of Burden’s Landing who leaks corrupt dealings of Willie Stark to the papers. The revelation of his own missteps many years prior leads the judge to tragically kill himself. And in the end, after declaring victory over his impeachment trial, Willie Stark is assassinated.

“Could have been whole world… Willie Stark. The whole world… Willie Stark. Why does he do it to me – Willie Stark? Why?” -Willie Stark’s last words

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