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ALL THE KING’S MEN (director/writer: Robert Rossen; screenwriter: from the novel by Robert Penn Warren; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Al Clark; music: Louis Gruenberg; cast: Broderick Crawford (Willie Stark), Joanne Dru (Anne Stanton), John Ireland (Jack Burden), John Derek (Tom Stark), Mercedes McCambridge (Sadie Burke), Shepperd Strudwick (Adam Stanton), Katharine Warren (Mrs. Burden), Ralph Dumke (Tiny Duffy), Anne Seymour (Lucy Stark), Raymond Greenleaf (Judge Monte Stanton), Floyd McEvoy (Grandon Rhodes), Sheppard Strudwick (Adam Stanton); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Robert Rossen; Columbia Pictures; 1949)
“It’s inspired by the career of populist Louisiana governor (1928-32) and Democratic U.S. Senator (1932-35) Huey Long.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Rossen’s (“The Hustler”/”Body and Soul”) solid melodramatic biopic is based on the 1946 Pulitzer Prize novel by Robert Penn Warren. It’s inspired by the career of populist Louisiana governor (1928-32) and Democratic U.S. Senator (1932-35) Huey Long, the colorful character known as “The Kingfish” whose end came through an assassination in 1935. This fictionalized account chronicles the backwoods naive lawyer and Southern demagogue Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) and his rise from small time politico to big time politico. It’s seen through the eyes of newspaper reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland), who also acts as narrator. Its hard-hitting theme is that power corrupts, as Huey might have started out as an honest man but got caught up in greed and a quest for power that ruined all his accomplishments such as getting across public programs for the common man.

In his rural hometown, honest Willie Stark is running for county treasurer as a reformer, but he’s being harassed by the crooked county commissioners headed by Tiny Duffy (Ralph Dumke). The editor of the big-city Chronicle sends reporter Jack Burden to cover the story. Willie’s arrested for campaigning in public, his teenaged adopted son Tom (John Derek) is beaten up for giving out handbills, and his teacher wife Lucy (Anne Seymour) is fired, but he nevertheless has the fortitude to continue the campaign. Jack writes articles highly favorable to Willie. But Willie loses, and then studies at home to become a lawyer. When schoolchildren die in an accident, the voters realize his message was the right one. Willie files a civil suit and bows to the politicians who ask the popular politician to run for governor four years later.

Once Willie’s reached the governor’s mansion, however, he becomes as dishonest and despotic as the crooks whom he’s replaced. He also becomes a womanizer and has affairs with both his campaign manager Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge) and with Anne Stanton (Joanne Dru), the sister of idealistic doctor Adam Stanton (Sheppard Strudwick). She’s the niece of Judge Stanton (Raymond Greenleaf) and the love interest of Jack. Willie ignores his noble wife’s urges that he do great and wonderful things, but instead becomes increasingly more corrupt, sleazy and despotic.

Jack is by this time Willie’s press agent, and his admiration for Willie becomes tempered when Willie’s flaws become exposed.

The superb performances by Crawford, Ireland and McCambridge keep the film gripping, the background scenes are well-conceived, and the politics are adequately sketched out, but the film is let down after a fast start as the narrative in the second half becomes too tired and bloated.

The film was remade in 2006 with Sean Penn in the Crawford role, and received dreadful reviews.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”