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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Listen up, you hicks!"
DVD ReviewAll the King's Men is a sort of granddaddy of political movies that explore the processes of our democracy. The fictional novel the movie is based on is, itself, loosely-based on the career of the notorious Louisiana politician, Huey P. Long. Nicknamed the "Kingfish", Long's reign is now a historical footnote to an era when political awareness began to emerge that contradicted the established patterns of elitist domination. Political movements emerged that spawned the ideas of unionism and socialism, leading to an attempt to overthrow the capital-oriented domination of the "robber barons." So many times these movements led to corruption by elements of organized crime. But when the fundamental powers of government are lined up against you, who do you turn to for the power—the muscle—necessary to protect your cause and effect change in a situation where force is necessary? Would a politician make a deal with the devil himself in order to put forth his programs to really help people in need?
When Robert Penn Warren wrote his Pulitzer Prize novel, the events surrounding the rise and fall of Huey Long were fresh in the minds of people, much more so than they might be today. Yet the story of the demagogue, the man of the people, is as timeless as the story of man's political institutions. The fast-talking "man of the people" who garners the emotional support of the masses has been the bane of the ruling classes throughout history. In Ancient Rome, the brothers Grachi attempted to overthrow the ruling patricians by appealing to the unlanded Roman mob... and were assassinated for it. In the 18th century, Oliver Cromwell raised an army and participated in the overthrow of the British Crown. In our century, the demagoguery of Hitler and Mussolini contributed strongly to their ability to subvert the political systems of their respective countries and assume power.
The story of this movie takes place in an unnamed, generic American state that is apparently all white. John Ireland plays Jack Burden, a newspaper reporter in the state's capital city, assigned to take a trip into the country upstate. His job is to look over a county-level official, Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), who has made some noise in the local machine politics. The under-educated Stark is fighting against corruption in the local government and Ireland writes some favorable articles in his big-city paper about this political curiosity: a seemingly "honest" man. One thing this movie makes crystal clear is that there was just as much cynicism about our political system in the late 1940s as there is today.
Stark loses this first election and, through night study, becomes a lawyer with a passion for defending the underdogs, the "hicks" that he came from. After a notorious disaster in which bad construction of a school in his county causes the death of children, he gains notoriety as the advocate in a damages lawsuit. Cynical politicians in the ruling party trick him into running for Governor to split the vote with the opposing candidate. Burden covers the campaign and meets a political operative who has seemingly been assisting Stark, named Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge). After a poorly-received speech, Burke and Burden reveal to a drunken Stark that he has been set up. In one of the most dramatic moments of the film, Stark stumbles onto the stage at a county fair with a hangover and spills the beans on the whole political scam.
Director Robert Rossen adapted Warren's novel for the screen and does a masterful job. The themes of this film are strong and explicit, balancing the political and the personal with great dramatic effect as a political allegory. The performances are equally strong with Broderick Crawford tearing up the screen as Stark; his transformation from idealistic, uneducated hick to blustering, cynical Governor Stark is awesome. Crawford took home the Academy Award® for this role. McCambridge also won for Best Supporting actor and Ireland received a nomination. All the King's Men's editing was nominated and features montage sequences directed by Don Siegel. Rossen was nominated as Best Director, as well as for Best Screenplay. All the King's Men also took home the statuette for Best Picture.
This is quality filmmaking and the result is a movie that is timeless in its imaginative re-creation of a type of politics that still resonates today. In addition to the messages of the story is fine storytelling that enhances its impact on the audience.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The box states: "...contains a FULL SCREEN VERSION which preserves the original theatrical aspect ratio, approximately 1.33:1." However when you press "play movie," you get the dreaded "This movie has been modified from its original format..." message. The picture we get is pretty good by some standards, but has that softness that characterizes a transfer of a previous video version. There are many flaws in the source that are carried over here, including speckling and film noise. Some scenes definitely suffer from deterioration. A movie of this quality, a Best Picture Oscar® winner, deserves better attention.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is standard mono and is another aspect that makes this a minor release of a fine motion picture. I can hear sound quality like this by watching cable network and the lack of audio enhancement asks why one would want to buy this disc for home viewing. There is definitely some muffled dialogue and occasional crackling on the soundtrack that could have used some work. Not good enough quality, but the disc is somewhat redeemed by multiple language choices available.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Anatomy of a Murder
Extras Review: Not a stunning group of extras on this disc. Other than the extra trailers, there is only the somewhat limited "selected" filmographies of director/writer Rossen and the main stars. It would seem that a Best Picture winner, a movie with this much impact, would have more historical material. The enclosed short booklet does contain some interesting tidbits in an article that tells of the "Fact and Fiction of All the King's Men." The efforts here look better, relative to the lesser efforts in the audio/visual categories.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsExcellent writing and direction combines with finely wrought performances to create a movie that still packs a wallop after more than 50 years. All the King's Men follows a dynamic politician through the cynical jungles of American politics and has a lot to say about the system. All the unsavory elements of politics that we know and love are found here and more.
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