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All the King's Men (1949): The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

All the King's Men (1949) movie poster All the King's Men

Theatrical Release: November 16, 1949 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Robert Rossen / Writers: Robert Penn Warren (novel), Robert Rossen (screenplay)

Cast: Broderick Crawford (Willie Stark), John Ireland (Jack Burden), Joanne Dru (Anne Stanton), John Derek (Tom Stark), Mercedes McCambridge (Sadie Burke), Shepperd Strudwick (Adam Stanton), Ralph Dumke (Tiny Duffy), Anne Seymour (Mrs. Lucy Stark), Katharine Warren (Mrs. Burden), Raymond Greenleaf (Judge Monte Stanton), Walter Burke (Sugar Boy), Will Wright (Dolph Pillsbury), Grandon Rhodes (Floyd L. McEvoy), Richard Hale (Richard Hale - uncredited)

Buy All the King's Men on Blu-ray exclusively at Screen Archives

All the King's Men is a slight anomaly among the 1940s' winners of the Best Picture Oscar. That decade, the Academy was all about rewarding films confronting important timely issues, from alcoholism (The Lost Weekend) and antisemitism (Gentleman's Agreement)
to adjusting to another world war (Mrs. Miniver) and then returning to civilization (The Best Years of Our Lives). All the King's Men, 1949's winner, does deal with an issue but not a revolutionary one or one distinct to the time in question: political corruption.

Adapted from Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1946 novel of the same name, the film opens with newspaper reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland) getting assigned to cover a small town man who's running for country treasurer. The story's angle is that Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) is "an honest man." In tiny Kanoma City, Stark is rallying the people to change the system. Stark is soon shut down for forming a congregation and distributing handbills, both in violation of city ordinances. Burden even has his camera confiscated. But all is soon cleared up by a Mr. Tiny Duffy (Ralph Dumke), the most powerful of the town's numerous sketchy "commissioners."

Wealthy newspaper reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland) gets his assignment to write about Willie Stark. Kanoma County treasurer candidate Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) is shut down for violating city ordinances.

Stark loses that election, but gets his law degree and starts representing the working man, waiving his fee if necessary. His political career gains some traction after a school's faulty staircase, built under a contract he opposed, brings death to some pupils. Stark forms a citizens committee and is approached about running for governor of his unnamed state. Burden covers Stark's folksy campaign which takes a new direction after they learn that his run is a sham, designed to split the opponent vote and keep the incumbent in office. Dejected, the ordinarily sober Stark gets drunk and the following morning at a barbecue, he throws out his written speech to speak off the cuff and from the heart. He addresses the public as "hicks" and identifies himself as one and the same, to rousing response.

Elected into office, Stark loses sight of his principles almost immediately. He begins making deals with anyone interested, claiming there are no strings attached. We know better as this once everyday icon becomes living proof that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Already cheating on his wife with a jaded staff member (Mercedes McCambridge), Stark starts seeing Burden's longtime hometown sweetheart, Anne Stanton (Joanne Dru), the daughter of a revered late governor. Anne's judge uncle (Raymond Greenleaf) and doctor brother (Shepperd Strudwick) become a part of Stark's shady cabinet, until they grow disillusioned with the leader.

A trusted staff member now, Burden himself grows conflicted about his allegiance, appalled by Stark's dirty tactics, which include trying to bribe the father of the girl who dies as a result of a car accident driven by the governor's adopted son (John Derek), a football star who despite the official police record, was intoxicated at the time.

A hungover Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) speaks from the heart at a public barbecue in "All the King's Men."

All the King's Men must have felt like some dark, powerful drama upon release.
Today, its power is somewhat diminished, the overdramatic narrative doing all of the thinking and judging for you. It's more than a little preposterous for this idealistic small town nobody to morph into an entirely unscrupulous monster before our eyes, but of course political corruption is not new, a thing of the past, or the stuff of fiction. In fact, Warren based Willie Stark on Huey Long, a real governor and state senator of Louisiana in the late 1920s through mid-1930s. If you know how Long's tenure ended, then you know how this film ends. If you don't, I won't spoil it, other than to say that it's not an especially satisfying conclusion to a film that by then is already struggling to hang on to your interest and sympathy.

From seven nominations, All the King's Men won three Academy Awards: Crawford for Lead Actor, McCambridge for Supporting Actress, and, most importantly, the aforementioned Best Picture. The film's director and screenwriter Robert Rossen lost both of his bids and would lose three more times a dozen years later for adapting, directing, and producing The Hustler, the Paul Newman pool drama for which he is probably best known. Rossen began as a screenwriter in the late 1930s, moved to directing in 1947, and worked infrequently, directing only ten films before passing away in 1966 at the age of 57.

One of the more obscure Best Picture winners, All the King's Men was remade in 2006 by decorated Schindler's List screenwriter Steven Zaillian with a heavyweight cast led by Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Anthony Hopkins. It bombed thoroughly, receiving ice-cold reviews and grossing just $7 million on a production budget of $55 M. Its existence did nothing really to raise the profile of this original film, which is pretty average as far as yesteryear Best Picture winners go.

Standing as only one of 86 films to date to win the film industry's highest honor does not result in All the King's Men coming to Blu-ray in the most spectacular fashion. It reached the format last month in The Limited Edition Series of Twilight Time (the second Columbia Pictures Best Picture winner to do so, following Oliver! last November), given a run of just 3,000 copies that are available exclusively at screenarchives.com.

All the King's Men: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (Music and Effects)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: March 11, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($9.99 SRP; September 5, 2006) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released Columbia Classics DVD (June 5, 2001)


All the King's Men looks stunning on Blu-ray and not just for a 65-year-old film. The dynamite 1.33:1 picture boasts a sharp, clean, and pristine element. A brief single shot exhibited some heavy grain and apart from that, this transfer is flawless to my eyes. The 1.0 DTS-HD master audio also impresses. At times, the dialogue is so crisp you assume it had to be recorded in post-production. As with the picture, this mono soundtrack fell just short of perfection, exhibiting a bit of inexplicable hiss in a single scene (a different one). Twilight Time thankfully includes English SDH subtitles and they're kindly even positioned to align with the characters speaking them.

"All the King's Men" is billed a picture of tremendous impact in its theatrical trailer, the only video bonus of its Blu-ray Disc. Twilight Time adapts the cover art into the Blu-ray's top menu.


The film is joined by two basic bonus features on the disc.

First, there is the film's theatrical trailer (2:37), presented in high definition, which celebrates its Oscar wins.

Then there is an isolated music track. The 2.0 DTS-HD master audio mix presents both diegetic and nondiegetic music. In the case of the former, no matter how quiet it may be in the movie, it's loud and clear here along with the score. There's not much to say about this, other than to again observe and appreciate the fact that these days, no other studio offers what for Twilight Time is a standard inclusion.

Furthermore, a gallery provides the complete Twilight Time catalog through April with cover art, release dates, and sell-out status.

Nothing major from Sony's two DVD editions of the film is dropped here: just a 5-minute sneak peek of the remake, a booklet of production notes (really a New York Times essay written by Rossen), and talent files (a quintet of cast and crew selected filmographies of limited value).

As usual, Twilight Time gives us a simple static menu adapted from the cover art and silent save for the swish sounds that accompany navigation. The disc does not support bookmarks, but it kindly does give you the option to resume unfinished playback.

The final extra is found inside the keepcase: it's an illustrated, staple-bound 8-page booklet. Par for the company, it's comprised chiefly of a thoughtful essay from film historian Julie Kirgo, which sheds light on the cast members, the story, and Rossen's blacklisting and rebound.

Now a big shot, Governor Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) sits back and puts his feet up as he tells officials to write him an undated resignation letter. Gubernatorial scandal hits the newspapers, as the Daily Register reports on Stark's son car crash.


All the King's Men isn't the most entertaining or resonant of classic Best Picture winners, but this political drama remains well-acted and reasonably powerful. Twilight Time's Blu-ray treats the film to undoubtedly its finest home video presentation to date. It's not a film I can wholeheartedly recommend or a disc I expect to revisit frequently, but my soft spot for Best Picture winners ensures it will always hold a special place in my collection.

Buy All the King's Men exclusively at screenarchives.com

Related Reviews:
Best Picture Winners:
Wings Cavalcade Rebecca The Best Years of Our Lives From Here to Eternity On the Waterfront The Apartment
Lawrence of Arabia The Sound of Music Oliver! The Godfather & The Godfather Part II One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Rocky Annie Hall Forrest Gump Braveheart Titanic Chicago Million Dollar Baby No Country for Old Men
The King's Speech Argo

New to Blu-ray: Broadway Danny Rose Riot in Cell Block 11 The 400 Blows Philomena Fargo
Directed by Robert Rossen: Lilith The Hustler | Pulitzer Prize Winners Adapted: August: Osage County The Road Doubt
1940s & 50s on Blu-ray: It's a Wonderful Life A Letter to Three Wives Sunset Boulevard The Uninvited
Politicians: The Ides of March Nixon Lincoln American Hustle The Campaign Swing Vote

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Reviewed April 25, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1949 Columbia Pictures and 2014 Twilight Time, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.