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All the King's Men (1949 film)

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All the King's Men
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Rossen
Screenplay byRobert Rossen
Based onAll the King's Men
(1946 novel)
by Robert Penn Warren
Produced byRobert Rossen
StarringBroderick Crawford
John Ireland
Mercedes McCambridge
Joanne Dru
John Derek
Shepperd Strudwick
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byAl Clark
Robert Parrish
Music byLouis Gruenberg
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 8, 1949 (1949-11-08) (New York premiere)
  • January 1950 (1950-01) (U.S.)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$4.2 million (rentals)[1]

All the King's Men is a 1949 American political drama film written, produced, and directed by Robert Rossen. It is based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning[2] 1946 novel of the same name. It stars Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge, and Joanne Dru. The film centers on the rise and fall of an idealistic-but-ruthless politician in the American South,[3] patterned after Louisiana Governor Huey Long.[4]

Released by Columbia Pictures on November 8, 1949, the film received widespread acclaim from critics, and was a commercial success. At the 22nd Academy Awards the film was nominated for seven Oscars and won three; Best Picture, Best Actor for Crawford, and Best Supporting Actress for McCambridge, making an impressive film debut. The film also won five Golden Globes, and was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

In 2001, All the King's Men was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[5]



Reporter Jack Burden is sent on assignment to write about Willie Stark, a man running for county treasurer in an unnamed Southern state. Stark's campaign is run on honesty and talking about the corruption of the local politicians. Burden meets Stark and his family and writes an inspiring story on Stark's honesty and courage. Using their power, including sway over the police, the local political machine shuts out Stark. After his loss, Stark earns a law degree. When a shoddily-constructed school in his county experiences a structural collapse that kills 12 students during a fire drill, Stark is encouraged to work on their legal affairs at the children's funeral, and he ultimately wins a lawsuit against the county, leading to a state-wide investigation. Willie uses this to build his political momentum, and he is eventually drafted as a spoiler candidate for Governor by the frontrunner in a three-way race.

Stark embarks on the campaign trail with Sadie Burke, an associate of the campaign installed as a mole from a rival candidate, and Burden. Initially Stark has trouble on the campaign trail as he speaks obtusely and plainly about his balanced budget plan for the state. However, once Burke reveals he is just a spoiler candidate, Stark begins to give more impassioned and effective speeches. During this time, Burden continues to report on Stark's campaign, but he resigns after being told to stop writing positively about Stark. Ultimately Stark loses the race, but draws large grassroots support from the rural areas of the state as he identifies as one of them - a fooled "hick."

Over the next four years, Stark realizes how to win and continues to campaign and make backroom deals to gain political influence and campaign funds. Meanwhile, Burden has had a tough time finding another job, but is hired by Stark to serve as an opposition researcher for the campaign. Stark and Burden go back to Burden's home to convince Burden's friends and family to support the campaign. Skeptical of Stark's alleged deals and big promises, Adam, brother of Jack Burden's girlfriend, Anne Stanton, asks questions and is not fully convinced. However, Anne sensing his demagogic magnetism believes fully in Stark's message. Burden gets the group on board by promising State Attorney General to Anne's uncle, the honest Judge Stanton. Willie ends up winning the election in a landslide and is portrayed by newsreels as either a prairie messiah or incipient dictator.

During his time as Governor, Stark ends up utilizing his power in aggressive and corrupt ways as Burden develops a black book of biographical leverage to extract political favors and votes in support of their agenda. He covers up a scandal by a member of his administration, after which Judge Stanton resigns as Attorney General and publicly asserts Stark's corruption. Stark's loss of morals, corruption, and alienation from his small-town self is exacerbated as he philanders with many women, including Anne and Sadie. Feeling the pressure of his father's status, Stark's adopted college-aged son Tommy drinks to deal with his feelings about his father. Following a football practice where Stark berates Tommy for drinking, Tommy gets drunk and crashes his car, injuring himself and killing his female passenger. To combat the bad press, Stark pressures Tommy into a game despite him not being fully recovered. During the game, Tommy takes a rough hit and is rushed to the hospital. Stark, blaming himself for Tommy's injury, begs Adam, a surgeon, to do all he can. Adam, preferring to wait for a specialist, ultimately agrees to operate after Stark clumsily tries to entice him by offering to build a new hospital for the public. Tommy ends up a paraplegic.

Following this, Burden gives Anne evidence of Judge Stanton's possible past wrongdoing that Burden has buried out of respect for the judge's lifetime career. Stark begins his re-election campaign for Governor by visiting his estranged family. While there, Judge Stanton publicly blames Stark for the suspicious death of the father of the girl in Tommy's car accident after the father refused Stark's bribe to make it go away. An impeachment trial is brought against Stark and the judge controls how certain senators will vote at the trial. Stark issues orders to "turn the yokels out" to demonstrate in his support and there are concerns that he might use the state militia to remain in power. In desperation, Stark visits Judge Stanton and attempts to strongarm him to release his senators with the evidence that Burden found, given to him by Anne. However, Judge Stanton commits suicide, and the impeachment ends with Stark's acquittal.

During Stark's public victory celebration, Adam distraught over the pressure put on the judge mortally shoots Stark, believing that the only reason he was appointed as the director for the hospital was that his sister was Willie Stark's mistress. Having lost his respect for Stark, Burden tries to get Anne's agreement to find a way to destroy Stark's reputation following his death. Stark dies on the steps of the state capitol bemoaning his stolen opportunity for greatness and wondering why it happened to him.


Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark in All the King's Men





Before Robert Rossen was hired, Norman Corwin was hired by Columbia Pictures to adapt Warren’s novel into a screenplay. A Writers Guild arbitration board later awarded sole screenwriting credit to Rossen.

Rossen’s script makes several changes to the novel, including shifting the main story perspective from reporter Jack Burden, the novel’s narrator, to Willie Stark himself.[7][8] The film also removes any direct references to the state in which the film is set, as well as specificities of Southern American politics. Brian Neve, writing for Cinéaste, noted that this helps to "universalize" the Stark's story.[8]



Rossen originally offered the starring role to John Wayne, who found the proposed film script unpatriotic and indignantly refused the part. Broderick Crawford, who eventually took the role, won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Actor, beating out Wayne, who had been nominated for his role in Sands of Iwo Jima.

The casting of Crawford was considered risky at the time, as he was not known as a leading man, nor considered a box office draw, but primarily a character actor. Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn favored Spencer Tracy, but Rossen rejected the suggestion, thinking the audience would find Tracy’s Stark too likable.[9] Rossen felt that Crawford’s burly demeanor and “tough guy” appearance were well-suited to portray Stark, as both an everyman and a demagogue. Crawford was so enthusiastic for the role he took a fifty-percent pay cut.[9] In preparation for the role, Crawford studied newsreel footage and voice recordings of Huey Long, though he noted the studio had an unspoken rule against mentioning the late Governor’s death on set.

Filming locations


The film was shot at various locations in California using local residents, something that was fairly unknown for Hollywood at the time.[10][11] The scene near the beginning of the film, where Stark is arrested for unauthorized public speaking was filmed on the old Suisun City, California, Plaza, and the officer that warns, then arrests, Stark was played by the then-Sheriff, A.C. Tillman.[11]

A house in nearby Fairfield was used for the exterior of Willie Stark's house in the film. Sets were built in the nearby M & M Skateway (now gone) for the interior scenes at the house, which were closely based on photos of the actual interiors of that house. The elementary school that plays a pivotal role in the film was also local, but no longer exists.[11]

The old San Joaquin County courthouse in Stockton, built in 1898 and demolished about a dozen years after the film's release, was featured prominently.

Don Siegel worked on the film as an uncredited second unit director.[8]



Paul Tatara, writing for TCM, describes the film as "one of those pictures that was saved in the editing".[12] The original cut, done by Al Clark, had difficulty making a coherent version, because so much footage was shot.[12] Rossen and Columbia Studios head Harry Cohn hired Robert Parrish to make changes.[12] However, Parrish's efforts proved unsuccessful as Rossen stayed heavily involved and the film was still over 250 minutes long following several weeks.[12] Cohn almost released this cut before Rossen told Parrish, "Select 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."[12]

After All the King's Men won its Academy Award for Best Picture, Harry Cohn repeatedly gave Parrish credit for saving the film.[12] Although Clark is credited as the "Film Editor" (with Parrish being credited as "Editorial Advisor"), both Clark and Parrish received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.



Critical response


The film received wide acclaim upon its release. Film critic Bosley Crowther lauded the film and its direction in his review, writing, "Robert Rossen has written and directed, as well as personally produced, a rip-roaring film of the same title ... We have carefully used that descriptive as the tag for this new Columbia film because a quality of turbulence and vitality is the one that it most fully demonstrates ... In short, Mr. Rossen has assembled in this starkly unprettified film a piece of pictorial journalism that is remarkable for its brilliant parts."[13] Critic William Brogdon, writing for Variety magazine, was also complimentary and praised Broderick Crawford's work, "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 histrionic bent wraps it up for a great personal success adding much to the many worthwhile aspects of the drama."[14] It won an Associated Press poll in 1950 as the best film of 1949, and Broderick Crawford was regarded as the best actor in that same poll.[15]

On Rotten Tomatoes, All the King's Men holds a rating of 97% based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 8.10/10. The consensus summarizes: "Broderick Crawford is spellbinding as politician Willie Stark in director Robert Rossen's adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren novel about the corrosive effects of power on the human soul."[16]

Later analysis


Film historian Spencer Selby calls the film "[A] hard-hitting noir adaptation of Warren's eloquent novel".[17] Joe Goldberg, film historian and former story editor for Paramount Pictures, wrote about the content of the plot and its noirish fatalistic conclusion, "The plot makes sense, the dialogue is memorable, the story arises from the passions and ideas of the characters. It deals with graft, corruption, love, drink and betrayal, and the subversion of idealism by power, and it might even make someone angry... The story moves toward its conclusion with the dark inevitability of film noir."[18] Author Harry Keyishian wonders if Willie Stark is "a good man corrupted by the political process, or a bad one whose inherent vice emerges when he gets a chance for power."[4]



In 2001, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[19][5] The Academy Film Archive preserved All the King's Men in 2000.[20] As of 2022, it is the last Best Picture winner to be based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Academy Awards 1949


All the King's Men received seven Academy Awards nominations, winning three.[21]

Award Result Winner
Best Motion Picture Won Robert Rossen Productions Columbia (Robert Rossen, Producer)
Best Director Nominated Robert Rossen
Winner was Joseph L. MankiewiczA Letter to Three Wives
Best Actor Won Broderick Crawford
Best Supporting Actor Nominated John Ireland
Winner was Dean JaggerTwelve O'Clock High
Best Supporting Actress Won Mercedes McCambridge
Best Writing, Screenplay Nominated Robert Rossen
Winner was Joseph L. MankiewiczA Letter to Three Wives
Best Film Editing Nominated Robert Parrish and Al Clark
Winner was Harry W. GerstadChampion

See also





  1. ^ a b "Wall St. Researchers' Cheery Tone". Variety. November 7, 1962. p. 7.
  2. ^ "Walter Winchell". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Jun 18, 1949. p. 2. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  3. ^ All the King's Men at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films.
  4. ^ a b Keyishian, Harry (2003). Screening Politics - The Politician in American Movies. Scarecrow Press. pp. 18, 20. ISBN 9780810858824.
  5. ^ a b "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Archived from the original on April 20, 2023. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  6. ^ "All the King's Men". AFI|Catalog. American Film Institute. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  7. ^ Goldberg, Joe (2006-09-23). "All the King's (Original) Men". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  8. ^ a b c "Populism and Politics in Robert Penn Warren and Robert Rossen's All the King's Men". Cineaste Magazine. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  9. ^ a b "All the King's Men - Hollywood's Golden Age". www.hollywoodsgoldenage.com. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  10. ^ Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 79. ISBN 0-302-00477-7.
  11. ^ a b c "Back in the Day: 'All the King's Men' the king of movies filmed locally". 29 May 2015.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Tatara, Paul. "All the King's Men". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on July 25, 2020. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  13. ^ Crowther, Bosley (1949-11-09). "' All the King's Men,' Columbia Film Based on the Novel by Warren, at Victoria". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  14. ^ Brogdon, William (1949-11-09). "All the King's Men". Variety. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  15. ^ Handsaker, Gene (Jan 30, 1950). "'All the King's Men' Voted Best 1949 Movie by Writers". Reading Eagle. p. 3. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  16. ^ "All the King's Men". Rotten Tomatoes.
  17. ^ Selby, Spencer. Dark City: The Film Noir. All the King's Men, listed as film noir #8, pg. 127. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing, 1984. ISBN 0-89950-103-6.
  18. ^ Goldberg, Joe (23 September 2006). "All the King's (Original) Men". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  19. ^ "Librarian of Congress Names 25 More Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-14.
  20. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  21. ^ "1950 | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". www.oscars.org. 3 October 2014. Archived from the original on October 2, 2022. Retrieved 2023-04-23.



Silver, Alain and James Ursini (editors). Film Noir: Reader 2. All the King's Men film noir themes discussed in essay, "Violence and the Bitch Goddess" by Stephen Farber, pgs. 54-55 (1974). Proscenium Publishers, Inc., New York (July 2003). Second Limelight Edition. ISBN 0-87910-280-2.


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