ALL THE KING'S MEN – 1949 – movie – A Classic Review - directed by Robert Rossen; players are – Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), Mrs. Stark (Anne Seymour) Jack Burden (John Ireland), Anne Stanton (Joanne Drue), Tom Stark (John Derek), Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge), Adam Stanton (Sepperd Strudwick), Tiny Duffy (Ralph Dumke), Judge Monte Stanton (Raymond Greenleaf). This was the first big break into movies for Mercedes McCambridge and Anne Seymour who were already well known radio actresses. Amongst her many other roles, Ms. McCambridge was the voice of the Devil in the 1973 film The Exorcist.
This is the black and white “film noir” original adaptation from Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. This movie was nominated for seven, and won three Academy Awards including best picture 1949. It was eventually selected as being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.
In the book version, Jack Burden is the main character, but the director, Robert Rossen shifted that emphasis to Willie Stark for his adaptation. The Pulitzer Prize winning story by Robert Penn Warren loosely portrays the life of Louisiana’s governor, Huey Long. However, he saw Willie Stark as a metaphor for how good men in states across the nation, when corrupted by power can go bad, and he purposely chose not to identify the state where his novel takes place. Rossen followed this path in his movie version.
The Stark role was originally offered to Spencer Tracy but he was finally rejected by Columbia for being too likeable. John Wayne refused the part because he felt it was unpatriotic. Excuse me… this from a guy who dodged the draft so he could continue his affair with Marlene Dietrich. Plus, he felt the war would take too long and by the time it was over, he would be too old to be a “leading man.” He also tried to fake a shoulder injury. Director John Ford accused him of getting rich while other men died in defense of their country. To compound Wayne’s poor judgement, that same year, he lost the Oscar Best Actor award to Broderick Crawford in his role as Willie Stark.
Columbia, which financed the movie, couldn’t afford a “back lot”, shot this movie entirely on location in California… they didn’t set a foot in Louisiana… sorry Huey. Further authenticating the movie’s realistic look, they used local residents as extras, and gave some of them speaking parts. The film opened November 8, election day 1949 in New York City.
In this version, which adheres to the book, Willie Stark’s step son Tom, who was a high school football star and played the important role as a surrogate in Willie’s life, kills a woman while he was driving drunk. Willy would not let him admit his fault and used his power and money to get him off. However, Tom received a concussion in the accident, but was bullied into playing in a crucial football game by Willie. In that game he receives a spinal injury that paralyzes him for life. This entire important incident is missing in the 2006 version. If you’re wondering why you didn’t get seven Academy nominations Mr. Zallian you might want to read the book.