Blogging Best Picture: 1949, "All the King's Men"

Robert Rossen's All The King's Men is maybe not a great film, but as far as Best Picture-winning movies go it comes as a breath of fresh air: lean, dark, tough, rough.  Its cinematography is grainy, its editing is quick and at times unpolished, its worldview is grim and its ending is abrupt.  It may be the closest thing to a B-movie ever to win Best Picture.  (Rossen's previous film, the John Garfield boxing drama Body and Soul [1947], is just as rough around the edges.)  Perhaps even more shocking, All The King's Men succeeded in spite of Rossen's outspoken Communist sympathies, which inform the film's excoriating critique of political corruption and the twisting of populist rhetoric in order to manipulate the American working class.  The script is said to have enraged John Wayne, who was originally offered the part of the monstrous Willie Stark (it eventually went to Broderick Crawford, who effectively snarled his way to a Best Actor Oscar).  In an utterly bizarre turn of events, Rossen was later chewed out by fellow Communist filmmakers and future blacklistees Herbert Biberman and Alvah Bessie for having made a film that indirectly criticized the totalitarianism to which the Communist Party was itself susceptible.  For more, see J. Hoberman's excellent An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War.  

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