All The King’s Men (1949)

(On Cable TV, February 2018) Americans have a long history of examining their political system through popular entertainment, and All the King’s Men (an adaptation of a popular 1940s novel) endures even today given its subject matter, tragic arc and acknowledgment of how power corrupts. The tale of how an idealistic lawyer becomes a corrupt governor, as narrated by a journalist turned political operative, this is a story that stands on its own in addition to being a roman-à-clé about Louisiana governor Huey Long. It spans decades, charting corruption as it transforms the protagonist of the story. It’s a clear-eyed view of the political system that still holds a lot of resonance today, and it’s told well enough to still be interesting. Some of the montage sequences have a very modern feel (the film was nominated for an editing Oscar), supported by clever cinematography that goes from pastoral to noir as the mood of the story changes. Broderick Crawford is very good as the character at the centre of the story, equally credible as a young populist and as an older corrupt politician. Writer/director Robert Rossen does spectacular work transforming a novel in a solid movie (although we’re told that merciless editing saved the film), with good supporting work by Mercedes McCambridge (as the dour yet lovelorn Sadie) and John Ireland as the self-effacing viewpoint character. All the King’s Men was remade in 2006 but the remake, despite very polished visuals and an astonishing ensemble cast, doesn’t quite manage to capture the energy of the original.

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