Directed by Robert Rossen in 1949, All the King’s Men, is a chef-d’oeuvre film adapted from Robert Penn Warren’s award winning novel by the same title. The film chronicles Willie Stark’s journey in politics from a small-town lawyer to becoming the Louisiana’s state governor.
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The movie dramatizes chapter one of the book by highlighting Stark’s humble beginning. Initially, Stark comes out as an honest man, a lover of the truth, and a champion of justice. Speaking to a reporter, Jack Burden, on the ills of the local County Commissioners, he accuses them of playing dirty games to bar him from rising to power. He wonders, “Why have they used every dirty method known to make sure I’m not elected County Treasurer…they’re afraid of the truth, and the truth is this; they’re trying to steal your money…yeah, I said steal…they’re interested in welfare, sure, but it’s their own” (All The King’s Men). From this statement, one can conclude that Stark is the right person to fight social injustices. However, I would differ by arguing that all kings/leaders are “generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, right or wrong, than on governing well those they possess” (More 12).
The well-being of the common person is not a priority of kings. The movie overemphasizes chapter two of the book by highlighting the poor leadership in the government of the day. Jack receives a phone call saying, “…go up to Mason City and see who the hell that fellow Stark is who thinks he is Jesus Christ scourging the money-changers out of that shinplaster courthouse up there” (Warren 77).
This statement underscores the leading class’ resolve to silence anyone fighting for the truth. The first half of the movie dwells on the ills and rampart corruption that surrounds Louisiana County governance as highlighted in the second chapter of the book. Jim Madison posits, “…he told me Lucy didn’t favor drinking…I am just guessing about her not favoring stealing” (Warren 77). This statement reveals that the County leaders thrive on stealing from public coffers and Stark is opposed against this rot in governance.
The movie overlooks chapter three of the book. It leaves out characters like Josh Conklin, Byram White, and Sim Harmon. Once in power, Stark takes after the crooks that he replaced. He marshals all the state machinery to work towards his personal gains and vanities. He becomes a philanderer and forgets the very people that helped him rise to power. He betrays his wife and close friends. He infiltrates the judicial system, and thus he determines who is to be fired or hired.
For instance, after the state auditor Doph Pillsbury, unearths a massive corruption syndicate in the governor’s office, Stark compels him to resign. To those that try to expose his scandalous way, Stark uses his cardinal principle, viz. “…there’s something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption” (All The King’s Men). Therefore, using this rule, he hires rogue news reporters to dig into the accusers’ past and expose their ills to the public.
In other words, I would advise Stark not to enter politics on the premise that he would fight corruption and social injustices, because it would be an outright lie. Just like other politicians, Stark sinks into corruption and disenchantment and he forgets his manifesto to the people of Louisiana. In my words, “governments…are a conspiracy of the rich, who on pretense of managing the public only pursue their private ends…” (More 89).
Unfortunately, the truth triumphs over lies. The people of Louisiana are fed up with Stark’s beleaguering ways of leadership, and thus they hatch a plan to impeach him. However, Stark uses his state machinery to employ unorthodox ways to remain in power. In his boisterous victory speech he rants, “They tried to ruin me but they are ruined. They tried to ruin me, because they did not like what I have done. Do you like what I have done?” (All The King’s Men).
However, Louisianans are fed up with Stark’s dirty games and as he walks hand-in-hand with Jack chanting victory intones, Dr. Santon shoots him at a close range. Stark becomes a victim of his choices and he dies a miserable death. In his final words he mutters, “Could have been whole world…the whole world – Willie Stark…why does he do it to me – Willie Stark? Why?” (All The King’s Men). Unfortunately, it is late and the only world that Stark can have is a world of darkness.
All The King’s Men. Dir. Robert Rossen. Washington, D.C: Columbia Pictures Corporation. 1949. Film.
More, Thomas. Utopia, Stilwell: Digireads Publishing, 2005. Print.
Warren, Robert. All the King’s men, Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1974. Print.