Number one in a series of three attempts to adapt Robert Penn Warren’s book to the movie format.
ALL THE KINGS MEN – 1949 – directed by Robert Rossen; players are – Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), Mrs. Stark (Anne Seymour) Jack Burden (John Ireland), Anne Stanton (Joanne Dru), Tom Stark (John Derek), Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge), Adam Stanton (Shepperd 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 - best picture, and best actors, Crawford and McCambridge, 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 Pierce Long.
He was a farm boy who put himself through a three year law school in seven months. He styled himself as being on “the people’s side”, but the crooked politicians he was bent upon removing from power and the oil executives who were stuffing their corporate pockets called him the “Kaiser of Louisiana.“
After election, and in keeping with his promises, he passed bills that offered free textbooks for schools and night classes to reduce adult illiteracy. He immediately channeled funds toward education, hospitals, bridges and roads. After he was elected to the senate in 1930 he pushed for his “share the wealth” program, a plan to redistribute the state’s tax money.
Directed by Robert Rossen, Broderick Crawford captured the spirit of Huey Long's ambitious effort to follow his dream and empower the common man. Ahhhhh, but his path to that goal as pitted with traps laid by the powerful men who opposed him.
Using their own backroom dealing against them was his only recourse... fight fire with fire. “I don’t need money… people give me things because they believe in me.” Relinquishing your values to reach your goals can be a dangerous choice. It is an old, old lesson, not well learned by those who succumb to its temptations.
At the end of his life Long was either loved or hated by everyone in the state of Louisiana… there was no one in the middle. However, in his book, Robert Penn Warren saw Willie Stark as a metaphor for how good men in public offices 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 likable. 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 but couldn’t afford a “back lot”, shot every scene 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 film 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.
Tom received a concussion in the accident, but was bullied by Willie into playing in a crucial football game. In that game he receives a spinal injury that paralyzes him for life. This entire important incident is missing in the 2006 version directed by Steven Zallian.
There’s a lot of alcohol consumption in movies of this genre, and it seems that the tradition has been carried forward to recent films and especially action and crime fiction in today’s television offerings. My experience with alcohol is limited to a glass of scotch at the end of the day.
However, my moments of self-indulgence pale in comparison with the vast quantities of booze consumed in this movie and on the screen and TV today.
I honestly do not know how anyone who imbibes that much can conceivably be expected to make rational decisions. In this particular movie, you could possibly ascribe Willie Stark’s downfall to aggravated alcoholism which compounded his latent megalomania.