Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1949. Columbia Pictures Corporation. Screenplay by Robert Rossen, based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren. Cinematography by Burnett Guffey. Produced by Robert Rossen. Music by Louis Gruenberg. Production Design by Sturges Carne. Costume Design by Jean Louis. Film Editing by Al Clark. Academy Awards 1949. Golden Globe Awards 1949.
Based on Robert Penn Warren’s novel, this thinly disguised biography of the rise and fall of Louisiana state governor Huey Long is not quite as dramatically powerful as it must have been in its day but does still retain much of its charisma. Broderick Crawford is hammy as Willie Stark, the country hick who rises on the will of the people to become a powerful governor of his state because of his refusal to be corrupted like his high class colleagues, then descends into even worse corruption himself. Mercedes McCambridge does a fantastic job as his bitter secretary, one of the three women whose lives are thrown into a spin by his philandering ways, but the film really belongs to an impressive John Ireland as the newspaper reporter from a wealthy southern demagogue family who narrates Stark’s entire career from start to finish. Ireland has to navigate between the demands of his aristocratic family and his belief in the power of the underdog, while also balancing his professional duties with his love for a young woman (Joanne Dru) whose devotion to him isn’t quite as strong. The 2006 remake with Sean Penn is a hell of a lot more honest in its depiction of Stark’s nastier habits, but this version is much better written (in that it isn’t seventy hours too long and actually makes sense).