All the King’s Men is a movie that actually shouldn’t be as good as it is and it even contains various flaws both in the plot but also the visual presentation but somehow the story of Willie Stark and his rise to power is still an extremely powerful and memorable account of the corruptive nature of politics.
The simple truth is that, from a technical point-of-view, All the King’s Men more resembles a B-movie than an Oscar-winning production. Cheap art direction, disjointed editing, poor close-ups, exaggerated dialogue, an unrealistic shooting, sudden changes of characters, too many simplifications and much more should basically result in a forgettable production – but somehow, All the King’s Men survives all these flaws. No, it doesn’t only survive them, instead if uses them to create its own aura, it’s own style and uses this style to tell a maybe too overdone but still gripping story.
So, the question is: why? Why such a good position? Well, as I wrote, somehow All the King’s Men makes these flaws a part of its overall greatness and underneath it all lies the thrilling story of a simple man who is corrupted by his own power. Broderick Crawford gives the performance of his career in this part and his Willie Stark is both menacing and appealing, a perfect presentation of a man that can fascinate the people while delivering threats at the same time. Sure, his change of character is too sudden – the soft-spoken, quiet and shy man from the beginning makes the later scenes hard to understand and the movie’s solution that Stark suddenly changed during one speech is, again, lacking credibility but Broderick Crawford’s fascinating talent for loud speeches combined with the way the plot presents a man who swore to change the country for the better only to end up being a power-hungry despot makes the whole plot still incredibly absorbing. Joe Ireland turns his character into the movie’s conscience, a man who first admired Stark and then began to see his flaws. But it’s Mercedes McCambridge who steals the movie from everyone else with her unique and domineering portrayal of Stark’s secretary, a woman who fell for Stark just like everyone else and then had to find out that she, too, was just ‘another’ woman.
Like a lot of movies in this ranking, All the King’s Men mostly benefits from the ideas behind the movie – it shows how fast a man in power can create his own myth and violate the laws he is supposed to protect. More than that, it shows how the weapons of modern media help him to get most of the people on his side, how believes and ideals can be changed in the light of political power. All the King’s Men’s sometimes B-movie style helps it to achieve a very fast execution, the story constantly moves forwards without seeming too rushed. As I said, the flaws of the movie somehow become part of its greatness.
Overall, All the King’s Men is an exciting, provoking and shocking story that hasn’t lost its power.