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Robert Rossen
Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge, John Derek, Anne Seymour
Writing Credits:
Robert Rossen, Robert Penn Warren (novel)

He Might Have Been A Pretty Good Guy ... If Too Much Power ... And Women ... Hadn't Gone To his Head!

A Huey Long-type political figure creates a following for himself among the "common" voters after being rejected by the organized party system. The film takes the point of view of a journalist who helps the politician make it to the big time by winning the governorship. But the power of high office eventually corrupts him and turns him into a controversial figure in the eyes of his onetime supporters.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $134.95
Release Date: 11/18/2008

Available Only as Part of “Columbia Best Pictures Collection”

• None


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


All The King's Men: Columbia Best Pictures Collection (1949)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 8, 2008)

Every film that won the Oscar for Best Picture enjoys a certain level of fame due to that elite honor. After all, many thousands of movies have hit screens since the Academy Awards first emerged in 1929, but only 80 of these have garnered the big prize. As such, these movies mark a claim to legendary status just because of their inclusion in the hallowed roster.

However, all of these flicks aren’t created equal, and some are much better remembered than others. Of course, the farther back you go on the list, the fewer people will know a certain film, though that’s not a perfect rule. Obviously, 1939’s Gone With the Wind and 1943’s Casablanca remain awfully famous, and some other older pieces - like 1934’s It Happened One Night and 1950’s All About Eve - continue to maintain a nice audience.

Then we find more obscure pictures like 1947’s Gentlemen’s Agreement and 1945’s The Lost Weekend. These are the movies that probably would be largely forgotten were it not for their Oscar status. They aren’t bad films, but many of them haven’t held up particularly well, and without the Best Picture honor, their fame would be much smaller.

Into that category falls 1949’s All the King’s Men. This film tells the story of a politician’s rise to power in the south. Strongly modeled after the real-life exploits of Louisianan Huey Long, we follow Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), a self-described “hick” who manages to capture the governor’s seat based on his connection with other folks of his lower socioeconomic bracket. Stark takes control based on his populist leanings, but he becomes a virtual autocrat once he gets the job, and he seems to turn into the kind of person against whom he railed during his campaigns.

Based on the films that won Best Picture in that era, the second half of the Forties appears to have been a fairly progressive period. Through movies like Gentlemen’s Agreement, The Lost Weekend and 1946’s The Best Years Of Our Lives, we see how social issues came to the forefront of popular culture in the time, and All the King’s Men fits in neatly with those other flicks.

Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily a good thing. While I appreciate the progressive baby steps seen in these movies and I can understand that they probably had a substantial impact at the time, that doesn’t make them interesting more than half a century later. To be sure, all of them are well-made films, and I can’t say that I honestly disliked any of these works. However, they’ve not aged particularly well, and for a modern audience they can be fairly tedious to watch.

Probably my main problem with Men stems from its focus. Although the film is about Stark’s rise to power, he’s sort of a supporting character. The main protagonist is actually Jack Burden (John Ireland), a journalist who gets close to Stark. Along the way, this weak-willed guy becomes Stark’s stooge for the most part, and we slowly watch as Burden loses his own self-respect due to his silent acceptance of Stark’s abuses.

I suppose that the film used Burden as its main character because it wants to be a cautionary tale. Although the movie may have been based on the life of Huey Long, it also seems to echo aspects of Nazi Germany. Burden appears to represent the quiet majority who failed to act while tyrants took over their government. Director Robert Rossen also stages some scenes in a manner that strongly recalls Nazi propaganda; some of Stark’s rallies look like they’re outtakes from Triumph of the Will.

Burden is supposed to give the audience an entry point into the film. Unfortunately, because Burden is such a pathetically passive character, this never takes hold, and the movie limps along from its strangely detached point of view. Of course, Stark should be the star of the show, but the movie won’t let him take over that role. Instead, he’s left at a distance as we witness Burden’s observations.

Despite this misstep, some parts of Men are good, mainly due to the acting. Ireland seems somewhat drab as Burden, but Crawford provides a nicely powerful turn as Stark. Frankly, I think he changes from earnest rube to neo-fascist too quickly and smoothly, but Crawford manages to make Willie a lively character; we can better accept his rise to power since he provides such a forceful persona.

Crawford won an Oscar for his work, as did Mercedes McCambridge as political aide Sadie Burke. While I like Crawford’s performance, McCambridge is definitely the best of the bunch. While Burke also stands by fairly idly while Stark takes control, at least McCambridge makes her into a feisty personality. The character has much more spark than I expected, and McCambridge offers a biting, vicious piece of work. She dominates all of the scenes in which she appears and she really lights up the screen.

Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to redeem the lackluster and thin political treatise that is All the King’s Men. As a cautionary tale, it fails to generate much of an impact, and as a social commentary, it lacks depth; “absolute power corrupts absolutely” wasn’t even a new concept 50 years ago. All the King’s Men provides a mildly interesting experience due to some solid acting, but the movie seems dated and unconvincing as a whole.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus F

All the King’s Men appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This transfer gave the movie a consistently positive presentation.

Sharpness worked well. Only a sliver of softness ever interfered with the image, as the film usually looked crisp and well-defined. At no point did any problems with jagged edges or shimmering occur, and edge enhancement remained absent. Despite the movie’s age, source flaws made infrequent appearances. Grain stayed within normal limits, and only a smattering of small specks cropped up along the way. These weren’t insanely rare, but they cause few distractions.

Black levels appeared quite good. Dark elements were rich and tight, and contrast came across very well; the movie gave off a nice silver sheen. Shadows succeeded as well. Low-light shots demonstrated nice delineation and clarity. Except for the minor flaws, everything worked nicely here.

The film’s monaural soundtrack seemed perfectly satisfactory for a roughly 60-year-old flick. Though speech displayed a thin quality typical of the era, dialogue usually sounded acceptably accurate and distinct. However, some lines were poorly dubbed and stood out during the film. For example, when we saw Willie as he campaigned, sometimes the wider shots appeared to be out of synch with his mouth movements. These concerns were rare, but they could become distracting. I expect that problem has always been with the film; it occurred during prior DVDs and wasn’t unique to this one.

As with dialogue, effects and music seemed similarly flat and lackluster and they failed to demonstrate much dynamic range. However, those issues often appeared during older movies, so I had no great worries about them. At times, the effects could sound a little shrill, but the overall impact of the track was adequate. No issues with source noise materialized. Nothing here excelled, but the audio was good enough for an age-adjusted “B-“.

Both the original 2001 Men and its 2006 reissue sported identical picture and audio quality. Though I feared this 2008 “Columbia Best Pictures Collection” release would offer the same presentation, it clearly did not; Men boasted a new transfer. This meant minor auditory improvements, mostly in the lack of source noise; the old track had some pops and distractions that didn’t appear here.

The more substantial step up in quality related to the visuals, though, especially in terms of print flaws. The old transfer was a mess; it showed lots of nicks, blemishes and specks. Almost all of those vanished here. The new image also was tighter and better defined, with deeper blacks and more accurate contrast. Honestly, there’s a night and day difference between the two; the 2008 transfer vastly improved on its predecessor.

Neither the 2001 nor the 2006 Men DVDs included many supplements. However, they still bettered the 2008 edition, as it came with absolutely no supplements. Though we didn’t lose anything significant from the prior sets, this remained a lost opportunity; Columbia should have finally outfitted Men with some good extras.

I wish I felt enthusiastically about All the King’s Men, but unfortunately, I thought it was a somewhat dull and heavy-handed piece. The movie featured some good performances, but it lacked great focus and it tended to ramble on for too long. The DVD provides very good picture and decent audio but includes absolutely no extras.

As I write this in November 2008, this particular edition of All the King’s Men can be found only as part of “The Columbia Best Pictures Collection”, an 11-movie set that also includes It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take It With You, From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All Seasons, Oliver!, Kramer Vs. Kramer and Gandhi.

Because of that, All the King’s Men fans face a potential dilemma. I think they’ll really like this fine new transfer, but they’ll have to decide if they want the other movies as well; obviously no one will spend $135 just for one flick. At least Men fans can rest assured that they’ll get a strong presentation of the film; it really does look quite good here.

Footnote: in addition to All the King’s Men, the “Columbia Best Pictures Collection” includes four other exclusive transfers. The versions of From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, Oliver! and Kramer Vs. Kramer all appear here and nowhere else. As for the rest, they can all be purchased elsewhere. As I write this, the 2006 transfers of It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take It With You remain bound to “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection” but Columbia has remastered editions due December 2008. I expect those will be the same as the “Premiere” editions, but I don’t know that for a fact. Kwai and Lawrence provide the same versions found in their 2008 Special Editions, while A Man For All Seasons and Gandhi come from 2007 SEs. At least this means the “Best Pictures Collection” never relies on transfers from the early 2000s or earlier; none of the set’s editions were produced before 2006.

To rate this film, visit the original review of ALL THE KING'S MEN

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