Vying for Your Vote
Election Day 2016 today marks the climax of an unpredictable, white-knuckle Presidential contest between candidates for whom large swaths of the electorate have suspicions of unscrupulous behind-the-scenes behavior and a disconnect from their struggles and concerns. Opinions differ on who has the populist touch and whose opponent doesn’t have a clue, and since we’re now in a multimedia-connected 21st century, the full smorgasbord of rhetorical argument is readily accessible and omnipresent, but by day’s end a decision will be reached from majority consensus that will send a new occupant to the Oval Office. However, you just might cross your fingers on that outcome because, ironically, today also marks the 67th anniversary of the world premiere of one of Hollywood’s most scalding tales of dirty, power-corrupted politics: All the King’s Men (1949), writer-director-producer Robert Rossen’s firecracker of a movie that would go on to capture three Academy Awards® including Best Picture. It started with true events – the political rise and tumultuous career of Louisiana Governor (1928-1932) and later U.S. Senator (1932-1935) Huey Long, whose campaign catchphrases included “Every man a king!” and “Share our wealth” – and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1946 Robert Penn Warren novel that colorful life later inspired. In the attempt to capture all the novel’s regional Southern grit and wealth of character detail surrounding its protagonist – now named Willie Stark – and of the people in his circle who shared in his early idealism and would later be repulsed by his growing megalomania, Rossen’s first cut reportedly ran over four hours, and at the eleventh hour, he and editors Robert Parrish (an Academy Award® winner for 1947’s Body and Soul) and Al Clark (an eventual five-time Oscar® nominee with Columbia Pictures classics like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Awful Truth already to his credit) sweated out a reduction down to a compact 109 minutes that moved with intensity and propulsive dynamism. It became “a rousing melodrama, full of graft, double-dealing and strong-arm excitement” (Pauline Kael, The New Yorker) that catapulted long-time character actor Broderick Crawford to unexpected stardom and a Best Actor Oscar® as bull-in-a-China-shop politico Stark, a role reportedly first offered to John Wayne, who found the project unpatriotic, and who would lose to Crawford when he earned a Best Actor nomination for that same year’s Sands of Iwo Jima. It also introduced moviegoers to screen-debuting Mercedes McCambridge as Stark’s tough-talking campaign aide Sadie Burke, and she would claim Oscar® gold as well. Just as contemporary events inform us, the cost of winning is high – in reputation, personal dignity and compromised principles, and the cautionary ripples of All the King’s Men are still felt. Even when events seem to resolve themselves correctly following violent outbursts, vigilance is still required. Vying for your vote on a sharply rendered Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, also starring John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek and Shepperd Strudwick, All the King’s Men is a powerful, prescient reminder that it can happen here…but only if we allow it.