All the King's Men [1949]

Writer-director Robert Rossen and character actors Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge (in her film debut) took home Oscars (for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, respectively) for this excellent adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Crawford stars as Willie Stark, a charismatic populist Southern politician (inspired by the real Louisiana Governor Huey Long) who belies his "man of the people" roots as he ruthlessly maneuvers, lies, and deals his way into the halls of power. John Ireland is his right-hand man, Jack Burden, a newsman turned political flack who hangs on to Stark's early idealism even in the face of Stark's most reprehensible acts of corruption. McCambridge is Stark's cool mistress come calculating assistant. The immediacy of the drama is due in part to a documentary-like style, notably in the scenes on the campaign trail where Stark sways crowds with his folksy rhetoric and estimable charm. Joanne Dru and John Derek also costar. Rossen's savage screenplay and firm direction give the film a powerful punch, but it's Crawford's blustery charm and oversized performance that carry the picture. --Sean Axmaker

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