All the King's Men (1949)

Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge
Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge

'All the King's Men' is a dramatic movie made in 1949, directed by Robert Rossen and starring Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek and Mercedes McCambridge. The movie is based upon the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren and deals with the dramatic political ascent and decline of Willie Stark, a small town lawyer turned governor and power broker during the 1930's. The story was inspired by the life of Louisiana's state governor and Democratic U.S. Senator, Huey Long. It is one of the finest political films ever made and it is still immensely powerful today.

The film was a critical and box-office success, winning the New York Film Critics Circle Best Picture Award before going into the Academy Awards as the favorite. It duly won the Best Picture Oscar as well as Best Actor for Broderick Crawford and Best Supporting Actress for Mercedes McCambridge (in her screen debut). It was unsuccessful in four other nominated categories : Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Editing. In 2001 the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

After a gap of over half a century the film was remade as 'All the King's Men (2006)' with Sean Penn in the Broderick Crawford role. It was not as well received as the original.


The story is told from the point of view of a newspaper reporter, Jack Burden, played by John Ireland, who follows the political rise and fall of lawyer Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford). Stark decides to run for senator, makes many crazy electoral promises, and finds that it's harder than he realized to keep those promises, once elected. Things start to go seriously wrong when his son gets into serious trouble which has to be dealt with, and then his marriage begins to fall apart as well.

Burden sees first hand how political power dehumanises Stark and changes him from an honest small town lawyer into an unscrupulous and sleazy political bully.


Columbia Pictures acquired movie rights for $250,000 and made a deal with Robert Rossen to write the screenplay, as well as produce and direct, all for $25,000.

Rossen originally offered the starring role to John Wayne, who found the proposed film script unpatriotic and refused the part. 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'.

Studio boss Harry Cohn wanted Spencer Tracy as Stark but Rossen did not want a star name. He had seen character actor Broderick Crawford on Broadway in 'Of Mice and Men' and wanted him as Stark. Crawford was eager for the role and agreed to work for half his usual fee.

The film was shot at various locations in California using local residents to achieve authenticity, something that was fairly unknown for Hollywood at the time. So, a railroad brakeman played Pa Stark, the city's sheriff played the sheriff and the local preacher played the preacher. 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.

Rossen shot in a noir style which created an appropriately dark, conspiratorial mood. Also the striking cinematography in cinema verité style by Burnett Guffey gives the film a realistic "newsreel" style urgency and added a vivid and menacing atmosphere which strongly influenced later urban gangster films of the fifties. The film was shot outdoors in a variety of weather conditions which helped to give a sense of the passing of time.

Broderick Crawford deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar for his compelling performance which lifted him from the ranks of 'B' movie actors. He was ably backed up by an intense performance by Mercedes McCambridge who plays his disillusioned and cynical secretary, and by excellent performances from the rest of the strong cast, particularly John Ireland and John Derek.

In short, 'All the King's Men' has terrific performances, a great story well told and is a very good film indeed.

Main Cast

Broderick Crawford ... Willie Stark
John Ireland ... Jack Burden
Joanne Dru ... Anne Stanton
John Derek ... Tom Stark
Mercedes McCambridge ... Sadie Burke
Shepperd Strudwick ... Adam Stanton
Ralph Dumke ... Tiny Duffy
Anne Seymour ... Mrs. Lucy Stark Katherine Warren ... Mrs. Burden
Raymond Greenleaf ... Judge Monte Stanton
Walter Burke ... Sugar Boy
Will Wright ... Dolph Pillsbury
Grandon Rhodes ... Floyd McEvoy


Director ... Robert Rossen
Producer ... Robert Rossen
Screenplay ... Robert Rossen
Original story ... Based on the play 'Proud Flesh' and novel by Robert Penn Warren
Cinematography ... Burnett Guffey
Music ... Louis Gruenberg
Genre ... B & W
Distribution Company ... Columbia Pictures Corp.
Release date ... November 8, 1949
Running time ... 109 minutes

Academy Awards

Three Wins:
Best Picture ... Robert Rossen Productions
Best Actor ... Broderick Crawford
Best Supporting Actress ... Mercedes McCambridge
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Director ... Robert Rossen
Best Writing, Screenplay ...Robert Rossen
Best Supporting Actor ... John Ireland
Best Film Editing ... Robert Parrish and Al Clark