All the King's Men (1949)
Netflix recently shocked its audience and much of the television world by releasing a streaming series "House of Cards" which exposed the rotting underbelly of politics. The tangled web of tricks that Frank Underwood, the main character, weaves to accomplish his nefarious purposes is a reflection on the current mind about democracy. But what can I say? "House of Cards" was ridiculously good, and Kevin Spacey knocked it out of the park. This is recent, popular, and sleek—so what does it have to do with a 1940s movie? Good question...
"All the King's Men" begins with Jack Burden, a reporter, being sent up to Kanoma County, in the middle of nowhere to write a story about Willie Stark, supposedly the only honest politician. Burden gladly does so and soon finds that Willie Stark is a very likable, honest man who is being held back in his race for county treasurer. He's not that keen on being the treasurer, he's just trying to make a difference in his community.
When Burden gets to Kanoma County, Willie Stark is on the side of the road, advocating his position to those few who will listen to him. He's also criticizing the powers that be—and those powers quickly break up his little speech and throw him into jail, just because they can. Burden tries to photograph the injustice but his camera is confiscated and then the picture is "accidentally" compromised.
Stark soon lets Jack know that he's all about justice and truth—he really is a honest man.
Jack writes up a few stories about Willie Stark, who looses the election, and then goes on vacation—back home, in a secluded town. At home is his mother and step-father. His step-father is the villainous type, greedy and full of tricks—surmising that all men can be bought for a price. But Jack doesn't buy into this, he thinks that the world has some form of moral compass.
Meanwhile, back in Kanoma County, during a fire drill the cheap staircase in a school collapses and kills several people. Many people realize that Willie Stark was right all along (Stark in the meantime has gotten a degree in law and is a practicing attorney) and he becomes all the rage in the little community—spilling over into major newspapers.
Jack's boss directs him back up to Kanoma and tells him to cover Willie Stark again.
And then—politics happens. Willie Stark is roped into a run for governor just to split the votes. He's insurance, insuring that the man with the money wins.
When he realizes that he's being set up, he drops his monotonous style of campaigning and goes for the, metaphorical jugular. In short, he becomes the people's person.
"All the King's Men" is shockingly ahead of its time, addressing issues that are still popping up—therefore the "House of Cards" reference.
Willie Stark is a character that evolves and regrettably, we're there to see it happen. His evolution never feels fake or contrived, but out of the depth of his circumstances.
Jack is another character that changes, though his change is less drastic than Stark's.
"All the King's Men" exposes the seedy side of politics that we would all like to think doesn't exist. It's a huge movie, showing no shame and holding nothing back.
It sidesteps so many cliches from the time period in which it was made—take Sadie Burke for instance. She's involved with the Stark campaign, yet she is nothing like the "typical" woman from film of this age. She strong, cunning, and ruthless. She is played by Mercedes McCambridge who won a well deserved Oscar for her role.
There are some stereotypical actions in "All the King's Men"—like the shaking of women who won't listen. This is another reason why I love Sadie Burk—she is shaken, but she is not stirred. Her defiance is shown in her eyes and by the sentences she speaks. Even when the cliche slap across the face comes, she laughs at its pointlessness...like I said, way ahead of its time.
I was shocked by how much I liked "All the King's Men". It doesn't have the huge score that swells at emotional times, and the crying scene, and the romantic kiss in the moonlight—and herein lies the movie's strength.
"All the King's Men" is not perfect, it falls into a semi-preachy format...but for what it is—you simply have to admire its guts.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones