You would be excused for having never heard of this film before. There are a number of films that have won the Oscar which most members of the general public would not be able to name. All The King’s Men, much like Cimarron and Cavalcade would be one of these films.
1949 was one of those interesting years at the Oscars. The Bicycle Thief took an award for Best Forgeign Language picture. The Heiress wins the most awards (the ever-brilliant Olivia de Havilland taking home her second Oscar) with four. All The King’s Men takes home Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
Why would that make it an interesting year? Mainly because, whilst you the two classic movies I just mentioned (The Heiress and The Bicycle Thief) it was a weak year for nominations. Especially so when you see then in the following year you had Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve, Harvey, Adam’s Rib and The Third Man all battling it out in various categories.
Is this my way of saying that All The King’s Men is a poor film? Not by any means no. It wasn’t the best film out that year (then again it is so rare for the Academy to give the honour to the best film of that year), but it is still a really good film. It actually made me want to read the book.
Going in cold I had no idea that over the course of two hours you see the complete political career of Willie Stark, a once honourable man who wants to just make the world better. Did I say once? Why yes I did, because a big part of the film is about his fall into extreme corruption in order to achieve his dream of making it big.
Broderick Crawford absolutely shines in this film in the role that won him his Oscar for Best Actor. He is able to play the role of both the idealistic and honest politician and then slowly mutates into one of the greatest political villains that I have seen on film.
At no time does Crawford’s Stark go into pantomime evil, that would be too easy and remove the impact. He is an extreme, and rather adept, Machiavellian who would have probably remained honest if the establishment had not so maltreated him.
As a Brit I could look at this man and have one man creep into my mind as an equivalent – Tony Blair. Cheap shot? Maybe, but there is a parallel of a man starting out so extremely well loved and just becoming a figure of hatred and disappointment amongst those that once voted for him and loved him.
In reality, All The King’s Men was based on a book that was loosely based on a real life of Huey Long, a Louisiana senator who was assassinated on the steps of the Capitol building. Knowing this makes me want to read the book. After I finish Clarissa… whenever that is. Long book. Very long book.