All the King’s Men is a brilliant portrayal of political corruption. One I may not have seen if not for its Best Picture win. In a way, All the King’s Men almost feels like redemption for Citizen Kane. I don’t always watch political movies, but All the King’s Men is very engrossing and surprisingly easy to follow. The somewhat fast paced editing helps a lot when certain complex issues are condensed. The movie depicts the rise and fall of politician Willie Stark. The title is of course a direct parallel to Humpty Dumpty. Stark was created for the 1946 book of the same name, but he was partially based on Huey Long.
Stark begins his political campaign as an honest man from humble beginnings. He works to fight corruption until he himself becomes the very thing he sought to destroy. Stark truly changes with an impassioned speech to his fellow hicks that more than earned Broderick Crawford an Oscar for Best Actor. When Stark wins his second race for Governor, he ends up making dirty deals, drinking, being unfaithful to his wife, and dealing with potential career ending scandals. Jack Burden covers Stark’s campaign and is one of a few people who remain loyal to him no matter how bad he gets.
Stark’s own son is the one who nearly costs him his career. Jack’s lady love Anne Stanton betrays him by becoming the Governor’s mistress. Mercedes McCambridge also deserved her win for Best Supporting Actress. In her debut performance, McCambridge plays Stark’s no-nonsense campaign assistant with a jealous love for her boss. Although I’d label it a political thriller, noir is a good way to describe the inevitable fate of a power hungry politician. All the King’s Men is a victory of storytelling.