The rise and fall of a backwoods political messiah, and the mark, he left on the American scene, is given graphic celluloid treatment in “All the King’s Men.” It is a picture to stir talk and controversy, factors that won’t hurt its chances, but regardless of its boxoffice fate, it is a film that vividly impresses, with dramatic sureness the chicanery of politics as have been practiced in the past and may crop up again.
Robert Rossen produced and directed from his own script based upon the Pulitzer Prize novel “All the King’s Men,” by Robert Penn Warren. That its principal figure is the late Huey Long is hardly disguised at all, but the polltics practiced, in the story were not Long’s alone. Rossen’s three-way function compels attention, telling the drama with all the punch of a March of Time sharpening realism without lessening motion picture values.
As the rural Abe Lincoln, springing up from the soil to make himself a great man by using the opinionless, follow-the-leader instinct of the more common voter, Broderick Crawford does a standout performance. Given a meaty part, his histronic bent wraps it up for a great personal success adding much to the many worthwhile aspects of the drama.
The story is told through the eyes of John Ireland, newspaperman. He falls for Crawford’s line after seeing him pushed around by organized politics and becomes a devotee, pursuing the Crawford career from smalltime into bigtime as governor of his state with a motto that nothing shall stand in his way of attaining greatness. Ireland’s work is good, clarifying the narrative so carefully developed by Rossen’s handling.
The dramatic impact of mob scenes contrast with equally potent intimate scenes as the story is unfolded and over them all is spread just enough of the documentary technique to make them vividly alive. Crawford’s exhortations of his followers is true-life spellbinding. The sequence where the people await the verdict on his impeachment trial; the defiance of the man who has made himself a king by knavery and the force of power, and his final death scene after being shot down at the height of his triumph are among the many dramatic phases to be remembered.
Joanne Dru appears to advantage as a cultured girl, friend of Ireland’s who comes under Crawfords spell but the most compelling of the femme players is Mercedes McCambridge, the ironic, cynical and completely disillusioned secretary and mistress to the great man. Hers is the more colorful character and she registers strongly. John Derek, in the shorter part as Crawford’s adopted son, impresses. Anne Seymour, Crawford’s wife; Shepperd Strudwick, the sensitive doctor who shoots down the king; Ralph Dumke, a hanger-on; Raymond Greenleaf, a judge; Walter Burke, Crawford’s trigger man, and the many other members of the cast rate for their playing.
The Rossen production swings from rural to city settings to background the strong script and Burnett Guffey’s photography never misses a trick in making it live on the screen. Adding to the important production touches are score by Louis Gruenberg, the editing and other technical contributions.
1949: Best Motion Picture (Robert Rossen Productions), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge), Best Actor (Broderick Crawford)
Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Ireland), Directing (Robert Rossen), Film Editing (Robert Parrish, Al Clark), Writing (Screenplay, Robert Rossen)