Blu-ray Review: All the King's Men (1949) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Though not officially a biopic, the 1949 drama All the King’s Men was directly inspired by the career of Louisiana governor (1928-32) and U.S. senator (1932-35) Huey Long. While a basic understanding of Long’s ascent to political power and influence is probably helpful when taking in King’s Men, director Robert Rossen keeps the pacing of the film tight and the sentiments at bay. The result is a hard-edged, noirish examination of the corrupting abilities of power and authority. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, bagging Best Picture, Best Actor (Broderick Crawford), and Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge).

Recently All the King’s Men was issued on Blu-ray as part of boutique label Twilight Time’s Limited Edition series. Only 3,000 copies were pressed and once they’re gone, that’s it. The film was quite vital for its era and remains complex and absorbing even today. Crawford certainly worked hard for that Oscar, portraying the Long-esque Willie Stark with infectious, ultimately insidious charisma. Stark comes from nothing, entering politics as a principled neophyte. Following a failed bid at county treasurer, Stark educates himself and becomes a self-made man. His rise is powered by his honesty and ability to relate to the common voters. But that purity doesn’t last long as the Stark finds his very soul slowly consumed by the addictive properties of being in a position to take advantage.

All the Kings Men cover (212x280).jpgStanding by Stark is reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland, nominated for Best Supporting Actor), observing not quite from the sidelines but also as an involved participant. Burden’s life becomes deeply entangled in Stark’s, especially considering that the governor has no qualms about stepping outside the bounds of his marriage to Lucy (Anne Seymour). Burden’s girlfriend Anne (Joanne Dru), who has family connections that will soon haunt the politician’s life, becomes just one of several Stark conquests. The complexities of the intertwining relationships, not the least of which being Stark’s campaign worker Sadie (McCambridge), contributes greatly to King’s Men gripping narrative.

Two-time Academy Award-winner Burnett Guffey served as DP on King’s Men. Although he didn’t receive a nod for his work here, his black-and-white cinematography is quite striking. Luckily, Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation is rock solid, offering a 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer framed at 1.33:1. The transfer comes from Columbia, who obviously took great care in striking it from well-preserved source materials.

Composer Louis Gruenberg only scored ten feature films, this being one of them, and received Academy Award nominations for three. Not a bad batting average. Like DP Guffey, Gruenberg was not recognized for his King’s Men score but it’s one of the film’s audio highlights. The Blu-ray’s DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix doesn’t offer too many surprises, just a solidly reliable presentation of clean, hiss-free dialogue and well-balanced music.

Unfortunately we don’t get one of the film historian commentaries that have been cropping up more often on Twilight Time’s releases. All that’s here is the customary isolated score track, which allows us to hear Gruenberg’s music in DTS-HD MA 2.0. There’s also a trailer and an insightful essay by film historian Julie Kirgo in the Blu-ray booklet.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to own the 1949 Best Picture winner, particularly if you have an interest in political dramas. Visit Twilight Time’s official distributor, Screen Archives, for ordering information while copies of All the King’s Men are still available.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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