A view of the other 'King's Men'

The 1949 film version of All the King's Men offers a formidable standard for comparison.

Published September 21, 2006

The new version of All the King's Men had a lot to live up to. Robert Penn Warren's 1946 novel won the Pulitzer Prize. The 1949 film version won three Academy Awards: best motion picture, actor (Broderick Crawford) and supporting actress (Mercedes McCambridge. Robert Rossen was nominated for directing, film editing and writing (screenplay); John Ireland was nominated for supporting actor.

A new DVD of that film was released earlier this month (not rated, 110 min.). For comparison, here are excerpts of the New York Times review of the original by Bosley Crowther, published Nov. 9, 1949.

- Times staff writer

* * *

Robert Rossen has written and directed, as well as personally produced, a rip-roaring film.

In telling a complicated story, the picture bounces from raw-boned melodrama into dark psychological depths and thrashes around in those regions until it claws back to violences again. Consistency of dramatic structure - or of character revelation - is not in it. But it has a superb pictorialism which perpetually crackles and explodes.

In short, Mr. Rossen has assembled in this starkly unprettified film a piece of pictorial journalism that is remarkable for its brilliant parts.

It clearly observes the beginnings of a Huey Long type of demagogue in a humble and honest lawyer fighting the "bosses" in a sleepy dirt-road town. It follows this disillusioned fellow as he gets . . . the strange intoxication of his own unprincipled charm. And it wallows with him in egoism, corruption and dictatorial power until he is finally shot down by an assassin when his triumphs appear uncontrolled.

Mr. Rossen's . . . final episode of personal violence and mob hysteria is superb for savagery. But in his parallel endeavors to transfer from Mr. Warren's book some real understanding of the character, he has met with much less success. In fact, the whole middle section of the film, which is deeply concerned with the brutal impact of the fellow upon his wife, son, mistress and friends, is a heavy confusion of dense dramatics that is saved from being downright dull only by the variety and vigor of pictorial detail.