Review: All The King’s Men (1949)

A well-done adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren classic, though I enjoyed the book more.

The first time I saw this film, years ago, I thought it was great. Solid performances in a cynical tale of political power corrupting a man of the people. And it is, but my second viewing directly suffered from having the book fresh in mind.

There’s so much more going on in this story than a straight tale of corruption, and the book is filled with interior monologues and shifts in time that wouldn’t translate to the screen without bogging down the narrative. You can’t fault director/screenwriter Robert Rossen for streamlining and shifting the focus from the narrator, Jack Burden, to his boss, governor Willie Stark.

Willie is the sun around which all other characters revolve. As the self-taught lawyer rises to power, learning the rules of the political game, those around him are caught in his wake; some are pulled along for the ride, others are plowed under the surface. The film All the King’s Men remains a fascinating and, similar to the book, timeless tale of how far one man will push the envelope in the name of good works and a lasting legacy, and how he will justify his actions to himself and others. [**** out of 5]

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