Director Robert Rossen may not have had Orson Welles’ knack for big screen spectacle but this Oscar-winning riff on a "Citizen Kane" theme is all the more successful for its lack of embellishments. Broderick Crawford (Best Actor Oscar) is magnificent as he evolves from soft-spoken hick to growling egotistical demagogue hungry to reshape the world in his own image yet determined to deliver on every grandiose promise even if the means don’t justify the ends. And Rossen’s script (based on Robert Warren Penn’s Pulitzer-winning novel which was loosely based on the real life exploits of a Louisiana senator) carefully catalogues how one man’s slide into moral bankruptcy ultimately corrupts everyone close to him including idealistic newspaperman Jack Burden (John Ireland) who goes from dutifully reporting the truth to wielding it like a political weapon and a tough-talking campaign manager (Mercedes McCambridge, Best Supporting Actress) whose admiration for the gubernatorial Frankenstein she helped create eventually crosses that thin line. A choppy editing style spiced with whirling campaign trail montages keeps the action moving at a clip and aside from a final frame that flirts with Shakespearean overkill Rossen keeps things grounded and believable—every character seems to struggle with good and evil including Stark’s own upright country wife (Anne Seymour) and resentful son (John Derek). Ironically, only Burden’s thoroughly capitalist stepfather, a most unlikeable cynic, sees the writing on the wall when everyone else is blinded by visions of stars and stripes and apple pie. Staunch Republican John Wayne was originally offered the leading role but turned it down accusing the film of “smearing the machineries of government” and “throwing acid on the American way of life”. Considering some of the White House scandals which came later the Duke’s admonishments ring hollow indeed.
Nominated for 7 Academy Awards in 1949, won 3 of them, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, All The King's Men is a terrific picture. Anyone giving it less than 5 stars doesn't have enough oxygen in their brains. Broderick Crawford's performance is outstanding. There is a great supporting cast here. Of course, the character of Willie Stark (a pun for a name) is based on real time Lousiana Governor Huey Long, who was assassinated in real life as Stark is assassinated in the film. (Putting pee-wee sized Sean Penn, a flaming Liberal, in the role that belongs to a non-Liberal is ridiculously ineffective and shows how low Hollywood has sunk.)
The protagonist (Willie Stark) first teaches himself law and becomes a lawyer, championing the local people and gaining popularity.
He then decides to go into politics.
Willie seems to work for the people.
So the people support him from the bottom of their heart.
Along the way, however, he becomes as corrupt as the politicians he once fought against, and Willie starts acting like a dictator.
This is usually the way an innocent man turns into a politician in the States---if not in the world political scenes.
Adam Stanton (surgeon) assassinates Willie after he has successfully got away with an impeachment investigation because he tries to discredit the reputation of his uncle (ex-Attorney General) who commits suicide and because he had an affair with Adam's sister.
This movie was loosely based on the real-life Louisiana Governor, Huey Long, who was assassinated on September 8, 1935.
Long was was at the State Capitol attempting to oust a long-time opponent, Judge Benjamin Henry Pavy.
If it passed, Judge Pavy would be removed from the bench.
Judge Pavy's son-in-law, Dr. Carl Weiss, had been at the State Capitol waiting to speak to Long.
The doctor tried to see Long three times before but was brushed off each time in the hallway by Long.
Dr. Weiss approached Long for the third time and fired a handgun at Long from four feet away, striking him in the abdomen.
Long's bodyguards returned fire, hitting Weiss 62 times, and killed him at the spot.
Long was rushed to the hospital but died two days later.
The movie does a good job of capturing the essence of the book even though the screenplay simplifies its more complex plot line for reasons of pace and narrative. However, one would get more from the movie having read the book.
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