Some people enter politics for the most noble of reasons and then find themselves to be exactly what they were once fighting against. All the King’s Men is one of these tales where an honest man running for the modest position of County Treasurer suddenly finds himself swept up in a campaign for Governor and rides his popularity all the way to the top where he has control of everything.
In the beginning, Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) is a simple man from a little town openly running an honest campaign for County Treasurer. The fact that he claims to be the only honest politician grabs the attention of the newspapers, and reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland) is sent to get the story. Willie lives on a little piece of farm land with his old father, school teacher wife and teenage son and he really is the most earnest and tenacious politician around. He loses the election, but when tragedy strikes, the people realize they should have voted for him and he becomes more popular than ever.
When the race for Governor approaches, Stark is brought into the running as a patsy to help split the hick-vote. When Stark realizes this horrible truth, and washes the bad news down with his first binge of liquor, he launches a new campaign saying “I’m going to stay in this race. I’m on my own and I’m out for blood.”
Everyone has underestimated Stark, his ranting and raving propels him to Governor and will that power he realizes he can do nearly anything. Soon he’s built huge highway projects and football stadiums for a little hick town that doesn’t need these things. With all this construction brings destruction and it hurts the people he’s closest to, including his family and Jack, who’s been Stark’s right hand man since their first meeting.
If you’re like me, and don’t usually enjoy political movies, this may be surprisingly entertaining to you. The focus isn’t so much about government and all its red tape, but a character study on Stark through his rise and fall. Crawford’s Oscar win for best actor was well deserved. We believe his honestly and sweet sincerity in the beginning, so it stings even more when we see the powerful brute he becomes. Crawford pulls all this off with a great sense of conviction. There are not many actors who could make that first campaigning rant sound serious.
“Here it is, you hicks! Nail up anybody who stands in your way!”