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All the King's Men

"Many times out of evil comes good." So goes the philosophy of one Willie Stark — illiterate hick turned politician. Taken from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men (1949) is the morality tale of Stark and how he rose from backwoods nobody to be a southern governor (based on part on the rise and fall of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long). Stark (Broderick Crawford) sees himself as an honest, sober, God-fearing man of the people when he runs for county treasurer — using his platform to expose the city council's practices of nepotism and graft on the building contract for the local schoolhouse. But the good ol' boys who run the town don't take kindly to interference with their power-base, and Stark is quickly sidelined. He turns to studying law instead, seeing it as a different means for helping the little guy. And when the stairway to a poorly built schoolhouse collapses, he takes the case against the builders and wins both the lawsuit and the respect of the people. His sudden high profile presents Stark with the chance to run for governor — but what looks like an opportunity is really a ruse in which Stark is used to defer votes in a tight race. Stark loses, but he's not discouraged — all along he's been learning, plotting, and getting a sense of what real power is all about. "You see, I learned something," he says. "How to win." But when Stark does win on his next bid for governor, he surrounds himself with flunkies and thugs who help him get what he wants by keeping a list of dirt on everyone and anyone with influence. Told from the perspective of a young, idealistic journalist (John Ireland) who eventually becomes Stark's hatchet man, All the King's Men is a tense, thrashing, and deeply textured psychological drama. Director Robert Rossen unfolds the complex tale with beautifully framed sequences packed with information, superb dialogue, and layers of unspoken interpersonal tensions. Crawford, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Stark, is brilliant as the man who would be king. He is both compelling and repelling, and his on-screen presence is electrifying. Many of the supporting players are equally outstanding, particularly Mercedes McCambridge (in her first film role) as Stark's hard-edged campaign manager and lover (she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the turn), Anne Seymour as Stark's long-suffering wife, and John Derek (yes, that John Derek) as Stark's adopted son. Voted 1949's Best Picture at the Academy Awards, this saga of political corruption and misuse of power is perhaps even more relevant today than it was when it was released. Columbia TriStar's DVD looks spectacular in the original full-frame (1.33:1) with audio in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0. Theatrical trailers, talent files, production notes. Keep-case.
—Mark Bourne

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