An adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title, All The King’s Men follows the rise and fall of an ambitious politician, who starts out as progressive, socially conscious man and ends up in a quagmire of corruption and tragedy. Warren’s book was a roman a clef about controversial politician Huey Long, the populist senator and governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, assassinated in 1935.
One of the first independent filmmakers, director Robert Rossen – at the time an outspoken socialist and ex-member of the American Communist Party- had his own production company, Roberts Productions, with a distribution deal with Columbia Pictures (to close the deal Rossen had to write a letter to studio head Harry Cohn stating that he was no longer a member of the Communist Party). Rossen optioned the rights to the book and wrote the adaptation himself, expanding Warren’s vision into an inclusive indictment of how corruption makes its way into public service – even when politicians start from an honest, straightforward stance.
Rossen shot the picture mostly on location in California’s San Joaquin Valley, using non-actors for several minor roles, a practice unknown at the time. His first choice to play the main character, rising politician Willie Stark, was John Wayne, who promptly turned down the offer after reading the script and deeming it “unpatriotic”. The role was finally taken by Broderick Crawford, who would become one of King’s five Golden Globes, and, ironically, beat John Wayne at the Academy Awards (Wayne was in the run that year with Sands of Iwo Jima). Besides Crawford and the picture, King’s won for Best Director, Cinematography, Actress in a Supporting Role for Mercedes McCambridge (who also received the Globe for New Star of the Year-Actress) and Best Original Score.