All the King’s Men (1949): Starring Broderick Crawford as Corrupt Politician

All the King’s Men, Robert Rossen’s superb political drama about the corruptive nature of political and personal power and the danger of populist dictatorship in America, won the 1949 Best Picture Oscar.

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)


Produced written and directed by Robert Rossen (“The Hustler,” “They Came to Cordura”), the movie features a bravura performance by Broderick Crawford (who also made Born Yesterday), who won the 1949 Best Actor with his stunning portrayal of bull-headed, backwoods lawyer Willie Stark,

John Ireland (“Spartacus,” TVs Rawhide) garnered an Oscar nomination for his role as Stark’s tortured right-hand man, while Mercedes McCambridge (“Giant,” “Suddenly Last Summer”) won Supporting Actress as Sadie Burke, Stark’s callous, conniving political aide.

A somber but realistic chronicle of raw, brutal power in force, “All the King’s Men” was brought to the screen by producer Robert Rossen who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film. The story was inspired by the rise and fall of southern bigwig Huey Pierce Long, the infamous “Kingfish” who was Louisiana’s governor and one-time senator.

all_the_king's_men_2Long’s cunning tactics of building public works during the depression to serve his own needs more than those of his constituents eventually brought about his own assassination in 1935.

A compelling story of a self-made, self-styled politician, it was politics that almost prevented Rossen from making “All the King’s Men” in the first place, when he was named by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 for having Communist sympathies. Rossen’s denial of this to Columbia chief Harry Cohn enables him to continue work on the film. Nonetheless, his earlier radicalism eventually surfaced and Rossen made only one more film (“The Brave Bulls”) in the next five years.

Willie Stark, a self-styled demagogue, begins as a self-made rural Louisiana lawyer and ends up building a fraudulent political empire, which results in his assassination.

All_the_King’s_Men_Mercedes_McCambrdige_4As Sadie Burke, Mercedes McCambridge won the Supporting Actress Oscar, playing Stark’s tough, unscrupulous secretary-mistress. Described as a “hard-boiled henchman in skirts,” she is seething with impotence and suppressed rage as she watches Stark get out of personal control.

“All the King’s Men” drew on Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 Pulitzer-winning book about the life of Southern Senator Huey Long, adapted to the screen by Robert Rossen. (There’s a very good documentary about Huey Long that played at Sundance and other film festivals).

Nominated as Director and Writer, Rossen didn’t win in either category; the winner was Joseph Mankiewicz, as the writer-director of “A Letter to Three Wives.”

Detailed Plot

Willie Stark (Crawford) becomes a people’s lawyer, committed to collective service.  He then decides to go into politics, but during the process he loses his innocence, and becomes as corrupt as the politicians he had once fought against.

The main story is a thinly disguised version of the rise and assassination of real-life 1930s Louisiana Governor, Huey Long. Also included is a series of complex relationships between a journalist friend who slowly sours to his ways, the journalist’s girlfriend (who has an affair with Stark), her brother (a top surgeon), and her uncle (a judge who is appointed Attorney General but eventually resigns).

When his son becomes paralyzed after a drunk driving accident that kills a female passenger, Stark’s world starts to unravel–he discovers that not everyone can be bought off.

Most of the events are seen through the eyes of the journalist, Jack Burden, who admires Stark and even when disillusioned still sticks by him. Stark’s campaign assistant, Sadie (McCambridge) is in love with Stark and wants him to leave his wife, Lucy. Meanwhile Stark philanders and gets involved with other women, including Jack’s own girlfriend, Anne Stanton.

When Stark’s reputation is questioned by Judge Stanton (Anne’s uncle) he seeks to blacken the judge’s name. Stark eventually succeeds, and the judge commits suicide. Anne forgives Stark, but her brother, the surgeon who helped save Stark’s son’s life after the crash, cannot. The doctor eventually assassinates Stark after he wins an impeachment investigation. The doctor in turn is shot down by Sugar Boy, Stark’s assistant.


Context Alert

All_the_King’s_Men_Mercedes_McCambrdige_1“All the King’s Men” competed against four other films, each critical of some aspect of American life. They included two realistic analyses of men at war, “Battleground” and “Twelve O’Clock High;” an adaptation of Henry James’ tale of a greedy courtship, “The Heiress;” and a satiric examination of bourgeois suburban life and marriage, “A Letter to Three Wives.”




Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Robert Rossen Director: Robert Rossen Screenplay: Robert Rossen Actor: Broderick Crawford Supporting Actress: Mercedes McCambridge Supporting Actor: John Ireland Editing: Robert Parrish, Al Clark

Oscar Awards: 3

Picture Actor Supporting Actress

Mercedes McCambridge’s Oscar Speech

All_the_King’s_Men_Mercedes_McCambrdige_5A word of consolation to the yet undiscovered and unestablished artists appeared in some Oscar speeches. Mercedes McCambridge, who won the Oscar for her very first film, encouraged other young actors: “Mostly I want to say to every waiting actor, hang on! Look what can happen!” “I meant it with my heart,” she later explained, “as a message to all those other actors in the cattle call that day back in New York. I got it that time. Maybe their turn is next. The hanging on is the hard part.”

New DVD in time for 2006 Remake

Based on the life and death of Louisianas notorious governor, Huey The Kingfish Long, the DVD release is timed to coincide with the theatrical release of the 2006 version All the Kings Men starring Anthony Hopkins, Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, James Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo.

DVD Special Features

Sneak Peak and Trailer of the 2006 Theatrical Release of “All The Kings Men,” including interviews with Jude Law, James Gandolfini and Anthony Hopkins

Digitally Mastered Audio & Video * Full-screen Presentation * Audio: English (Mono) * Subtitles: English