All the King's Men (1949)
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"Willie! Willie! We Want Willie!"
All the King's Men is one of many films that would likely be forgotten if not for one not only believable but totally magnetic performance. Broderick Crawford breathes so much life into Willie Stark that I thought once or twice he might be a real politician. Stark is a familiar figure: a politician who talks a lot whilst saying very little.
It's not a terribly original character on paper (or, on the digital equivalent), but Crawford has a confident, intimidating quality that reminded me to some extent of Lyndon Johnson, famed master of physical intimidation. His voice is deep; velvety. He looks like the kind of guy who could (and would) kill you with his bare hands, but one quickly discovers he could do so without lifting a finger. Stark also has a clear and present malevolent streak. Not only does he exert his power at his will and lending little pity to those he has crushed, but he loves it. Another good character made great through a performance is Sadie Burke, the mind behind the Stark machine. The great Mercedes McCambridge (Pazuzu, anyone?) makes a charismatic Sadie with enough moxie for two, and pathos to match.
The rest of the film isn't a whole lot to rave about. It's a decent cynical political story -- perhaps my favourite kind of story -- with truckloads of great acting. If I could make a complaint, it would be with regards to the famous editing. According to sources (Wikipedia is largely accurate, OK?), since RObert Rossen, the film's director, had difficulty editing down his 250 minute movie, he told regular editor of his Robert Parrish to "[s]elect what you consider to be the center of each scene, put the film in the synch machine and wind down a hundred feet before and a hundred feet after, and chop it off, regardless of what's going on. Cut through dialogue, music, anything. Then, when you're finished, we'll run the picture and see what we've got". The result, as far as this viewer is concerned, is a slightly choppy film. Many scenes end very unceremoniously, which, while it may work for some, did very little for me. Now, the editing as it concerns the pacing and structure of the entire film is just fine. It was the little scene-to-scene edits that irked me.
This is a minor complaint to level against a largely very successful political drama. All the King's Men is a fable of populist politics that has rightly earned the reputation of "classic." Its message rings true today as it did 70 years ago, and as it likely would have 170 years ago, and so on.
How true even today. Scarface-esque politics jam.
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In 8 official lists
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This movie ranks #8 in Golden Globe Award - Best Motion Picture
This movie ranks #18 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #23 in Academy Award - Best Picture
This movie ranks #169 in Academy Award - Best Picture Nominees
This movie ranks #326 in Library of Congress's National Film Registry
This movie ranks #379 in David Thomson's Have You Seen?
This movie ranks #616 in TSPDT's 1,000 Noir Films
This movie ranks #825 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown