Title: All the King’s Men
Release Date: 8 November, 1949
Oscar Ceremony: 23 March, 1950
Director: Robert Rossen
Starring: Broderick Crawford, John Ireland & Joanne Dru
Nominees: Battleground, The Heiress, A Letter to Three Wives, Twelve O’Clock High
My last movie of the 40s! I’ve been ridiculously busy with school lately, but I’m still making progress. I put this one off for a long time because the title and overall subject did not appeal to me. I have trouble following political movies from the past couple of years, let alone black and white ones from the 40s. To my surprise, it was actually not too bad.
All the King’s Men follows the life of Willie Stark as he goes from a modest countryman to a wildly popular politician. There’s a bit of a Gatsby-esque vibe to the story, because the audience witnesses everything through the eyes of a young journalist named Jack Burden in a similar way that they gain insight into Gatsby’s antics with the help of Nick Carraway. The problem is, while Stark starts out as a promising leader, he eventually becomes completely corrupted and power hungry. It’s no longer about the ideals he promised, but rather about his own interests. He slowly accumulates a posse of minions, including a morally torn Jack Burden and Anne Stanton, the woman he once intended to marry. A lot of characters cross paths, betray each other, mingle with each other and blackmail each other. Follow along as you impatiently wait for Willie Stark’s unavoidable downfall. I mean, how long can this guy last, right? Then again, that’s what we said about Donald Trump.
My major issue with the movie was the pace. The first 20 minutes felt like a shotgun firing bits of facts into my face, with no smooth transitions in between. In some cases, it took away from the seriousness of certain situations. For example, there’s a scene where a group of young students go through a fire drill at school and use the fire escape to exit the building. The camera zooms to the area where the metal staircase structure is connected to the brick wall, indicating that it is slowly coming loose. It takes a second to realize what comes next; the entire fire escape detaches from the building and collapses. However, before we get a chance to understand what happened, the scene ends abruptly and cuts straight to a cemetery, where a funeral procession is being held. The speed at which they jump to conclusions almost makes it feel like a parody. Also, make sure you don’t blink because you might just miss it.
On the other hand, compared to some of the other movies I’ve had to watch along this journey, it’s kind of nice to have one that gets right to the point without making you endure a painfully long and boring scene beforehand. I’m not saying that all the scenes in All the King’s Men are interesting, but at least they didn’t always drag on too much.
There’s always something about politics that reels people right in. As frustrating as situations can get, we often find ourselves perversely addicted to more. Why is it that people enjoy watching a regular man get caught up in a system that turns him evil and corrupted? Better yet, why do the people in his entourage deliberately choose to stick by him even after they realize that he is no longer a good and noble man? Is it really all about power in the end? All the King’s Men makes us wonder how far we would be willing to go for our career and aspirations. Willie Stark gets rid of anyone and anything who stands in his way. Jack Burden goes further than he’d like to by accompanying him in the process. Then again, other characters get out as soon as they sense a red flag. I mean, we can’t all be Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean now can we?
Anyhow, give this one a shot. There’s a 2006 remake starring a bunch of famous people like Sean Penn, Jude Law and Kate Winslet, but apparently it’s crap. I would watch it and let you know, but I think one version is more than enough for me. This means that I am now free to watch my next Best Picture winner, All About Eve. Finally, one that I genuinely look forward to.