ALL THE KING'S MEN
US, 1949, 109 minutes, Black and white.
Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Mercedes Mc Cambridge, Joanne Dru, John Derek, Anne Seymour, Shepperd Strudwick.
Directed by Robert Rossen.
All The King's Men won the Oscar for Best Film in 1949. Stars Broderick Crawford and Mercedes Mc Cambridge also won. The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren. Screenplay and direction are by Robert Rossen, who made such interesting films as Alexander the Great, They Came to Cordura, Lilith. Rossen had also written a number of screenplays from the '30s.
The story is based largely on the Governor of Louisiana of the '30s, Huey Long. It is a study in fascist politics in United States society. The theme was echoed in such films as A Lion Is In The Streets with James Cagney and Ada with Susan Hayward and Dean Martin. With the '60s there were political films like The Best Man and Advise and Consent which worked on the larger Washington scale. After Watergate, All The President's Men set a tone for political exposes. In European cinema during the '60s and '70s there were a number of similar portraits of abuses of power.
The film is an interesting one because of its serious tackling of this political theme in the '40s. It does not pull its punches. The cast is excellent and there is an intensity in the film which remains even though so many political films have succeeded it.
1. The impact of the film, its awards? Its qualities? Its relevance, even though dated? Its echoing of American politics and lifestyle in the '30s? The comparisons with later decades?
2. The adaptation of a prize-winning novel? Its respect for the novel? The significance of the title, fascism, power ? and the line from the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty?
3. Black and white photography. the atmosphere of the southern states? Collage and other effects? The strong score? The contribution of the excellent cast?
4. The narrative technique, Jack and his memories, involvement and detachment? His vivid description by immersing the audience in the experience with him? Yet the continued critique? The fascination with Willie Stark? The growing moral dilemmas and the audience sharing these?
5. Jack as wealthy young man, finding his career, his work as a journalist, his skills? The assignment to study Willie, Stark and the experience of his being prosecuted? Listening to him and seeing him at home? The quality of his articles? The basis for his devotion to Stark? His return home and his alcoholic mother, antagonism towards his stepfather, tensions? Friendship with the judge? Love for Anne, friendship with Adam? His ideals? Southern wealthy families? old ideas and the need for change? The comparisons between the social groups in the state, wealthy and professional people and the ordinary citizens, the 'hicks'? Jack reacting against the ideas of Burden's Landing and the freshness of Stark's ideas? His gradually being drawn in, supporting Willie. being bought by him? Being his hatchet man? Losing Anne? His contribution to bringing him down? Questions of justice, codes of honour?
6. The introduction to Willie Stark and his speaking, Tom's support, the arrest? The political bosses and their victimising Stark? Jack and his involvement? Willie at home, love for Lucy, Lucy teaching him, their adopting Tom? The earnestness and authenticity of the family ? yet the irony with Willie absorbed in himself?
7. Willie's loss at the election, learning methods, becoming more popular? The persuasiveness of his oratory with the hicks and his failure with prewritten texts? His drinking and changing? Throwing away boring texts and experiencing his power? Losing at first but his patience in building up contacts to win ultimately?
8. His preparation for a political career, time, study, the law, the dangerous school situation and the deaths, the funeral? His prosecution? Acclaim? A hero of the people? His winning? Deals? The people marching for him?
9. His building up an entourage? His winning people and using them? Jack allowing himself to be drawn in, Sadie and her intensity of support, love for Willie? Sugar and Duffy and their devotion to him and doing his brutal jobs for him? The growing exploitation and cover-up? The entourage giving tacit approval and supporting him? Victory Day and his ousting the old brigade? The gradual assumption of an autocratic manner?
10. Willie's introduction to Burden's Landing? His good manners? His drawing the group in? Promises ? the judge and legal authority? Adam and the hospital? Adam and his questioning and Willie's justifying himself? His ideas of right and wrong, his being the saviour of the people, the end justifying the means? The judge and the irony of his working for Willie, turning against him, giving stories to the press, Willie's ferreting out a scandal, using it against the judge and causing him to kill himself? Anne and her attraction, turning from Jack, ousting Lucy and Sadie? The deceitful relationship, the promise of marriage, Willie's dropping her for respectability in power? Her betraying the judge? Adam and his involvement, critique, operation, disgust at the betrayal of Anne, the credibility of his killing Willie?
11. Jack and the continued support, knowing the truth, discussions with Sadie, acting as hatchet man, observing, trying the preserve the judge, confronting Anne? The death and his trying to face the future?
12. Anne and her wealthy background, infatuated with Willie, his mistress, possibility of marriage, her being. dropped? Her betraying her uncle and her guilt?
13. Sadie and her toughness, coping, contrast with Anne? Her helping Willie even when rejected? Her final reactions? An interesting character well developed? Mercedes McCambridge's Oscar?
14. The contrast with Lucy and her help of Willie, teaching him, staying with him at all times. the formality of their relationship? Supporting Tom? The accident? Her blaming Willie? Their nevertheless still supporting him publicly? Pop and his support, the gift of the radio - and his turning against Willie?
15. The henchmen and their loyalty? Buying off people? Pre-written resignations? Deals,, corruption. exercise of power? The accident and the murder of the girl's father?
16. The building up of Willie's reputation? The taking over of public opinion, the crowds? The law case and the collapsed building and Willie's vindication of the rights of the parents? This as a stepping-off point for becoming a ruler, fascist style, talk? Responding to the crowd's response? Trying to meet the ordinary people's desires ? with manipulation?
17. The influence of Citizen Kane and the propaganda film about Willie? The construction of a reputation? The blend of truth and lies? The insidious nature of propaganda?
18. Ambition and its self-destruction? The corruption of power? Willie winning all before him, allegedly for the people? Their expectations becoming his? Self-centredness and absorption? Using people, leaving them, hurting, destroying?
19. The political and social issues discussed in the film? Insight into American political and social history of the 20th century? The relevance of this kind of film for the history of the late 20th century?
20. Themes of 'what does it matter in gaining the whole world and losing one's soul'? The absolute corruption of power? Willie's death and the sudden ending of everything? His shock at his own death? The effectiveness of the film in its social comment? As a moral fable?