The 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren was the source material for producer, writer and director Robert Rossen’s sensational political film All The King’s Men. The story focuses on the life of bullheaded, backwoods lawyer Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) and his rise from small time politico to coniving demagogue who has the whole state in his back pocket. The events are told from the perspective of journalist Jack Burden (John Ireland) who is sent to cover the story for his big city newspaper. Burden finds Stark running for county treasurer as a reformer- someone who’s eager to bring down the corruption and harrassment that the current county commisioners wield like a battering ram. Stark ends up losing the election, but after a series of tragic events, he becomes the common man’s advocate against corruption. Soon he ascends to new political heights and is asked to run for governor. Once Stark becomes governor, he sinks into a mire of bribery and dirty dealings and becomes as corrupt as the politicians he replaced. Stark takes Burden on as his press agent, but soon Burden’s admiration for Stark is tarnished as the governor’s sleazy, womanizing ways come to light- he has affairs with both his campaign manager Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge) and Anne Stanton (Joanne Dru), Jack’s love interest. Though the film was made in 1949, it stands as a reminder of how disgusting the nature of politics can really be.
All The King’s Men was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and was the recipient of 3. The first Oscar went to the film as the Best Picture of 1949. The second Oscar was bestowed upon Broderick Crawford (his sole career nomination and career win) for his stunning portrayal of the megalomaniacal Willie Stark. The film’s third Oscar win went to Mercedes McCambridge, winner, (140), for her role as Stark’s political aide and sexually-frustrated secretary-mistress, Sadie Burke. McCambridge allows Sadie to circle the political world like a hawk until she stealthily emerges as a savvy, cynical political operative. McCambridge’s Sadie is a smart, competent woman, but she ultimately falls victim to her own feelings that she can never be woman enough for any man. McCambridge is most devastating during her confrontation scene with Ireland as she reels in shock and laughter after being slapped across the face. This was McCambridge’s film debut and her stunning portrayal of Sadie earned her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.