Friday, 25 February 2011

Best Actor 1949: Broderick Crawford in All the King's Men

Broderick Crawford won an Oscar from his only nomination for portraying Willie Stark in All The King's Men.

All the King's Men is a somewhat effective but also lacking piece that takes a look at political corruption.

All the King's Men tells the story of a journalist (John Ireland) who follows the political career of Willie Stark. When we first see Stark he seems like a very soft spoken honest Joe who wants just to do what is right for the people. I frankly think Crawford actually honestly overdid the softness and naivety of Willie at the beginning of the film and frankly made him seem to nice, and modest. Crawford makes no indication at all that there is anything but good in Stark, who is passionate for the good of the people and nothing else.

Old Willie though changes a little too rapidly when told that he is being used by the higher ups. He changes basically as soon as he finds out and changes to an very confidant passionate speaker who learns how to fiery up the people to vote for him. I will say Crawford gives the right passionate bluster to his speech and into the new Willie, but I find him changing into this far more confidant Willie lacks a proper transition. The film does not really give it enough time, but Crawford really failed to use the little time he really had to make it convincing. He also failed to show of hidden aspects of Willie beforehand in the earliest moments, due to the simple nice guy portrayal he did.

Willie Stark as soon as he becomes a knowledgeable confidant politician he seems to become a completely evil and manipulative one. I think Crawford and the film again are to blame, the film does force this instant transition, but also Crawford almost immediately begins to portray Willie in this evil fashion. Again a failed transition but this does lead to Crawford portrayal as the power hungry Stark. This is by far the best part and aspect of Crawford's performance one that he pretty much fully succeeds with. Crawford has the perfect manipulative command to Willie in his power hungry form. As he smiles gleefully of his new found power clearly enjoying it well. I also thought his smooth control over his sessions where he deals with his enemies are quite effective and believable. Crawford also keeps the right intensity of Willie who dislikes whenever anything is not going his way, again he keeps it smooth and builds his anger but hides in public in the proper slimy politician fashion.

Now Crawford is almost perfect in as the evil Stark well when he is being actually evil, but I really did not entirely buy him as being seen as this great man by the public. Crawford's speeches consists of angered rhetoric, and he lacked a charm in the role necessary I think for his character to completely fool the public in this way. Crawford does indeed put on a false show in public well enough, but I think he needed more charm and charisma to be fully convincing. I also think his many liaisons with many women has the same problem. Yes he is a powerful guy and they easily could be attracted to that, but the utter devotion seems a little hard to believe, due to the lack of charisma he shows especially in the scenes with the women. Crawford mostly did character work and perhaps that is what suited him best. If he only had to do the evil Willie in a Supporting character role his performance would have been brilliant, but since he is required to show so much with the character's changes and transition his performance falls short overall. His performance is lacking most of the time, but he still excels very well in specific moments.


Fritz said...

I think it's a really powerful performance but I perfectly understand your complains.

Sage Slowdive said...

And I agree with those complaints. All The King's Men has always unimpressed me one way or another, whether it be the film itself or the political things it tries to hit you over the head with (which I'm sure was powerful and relevant in 1949).

dinasztie said...

I also think he's quite powerful.

Lukas Miller said...

OP, I think you are missing the point of All the King's Men. Willie Stark never was a good man turned bad by power. I mean that is SO NOT the point of his character! There were PLENTY of indications that he was no good from the get go. Remember how he shook his son Tom and yelled in his face at the beginning when he came home beaten up? Remember how his wife said at the dinner table when Jack was interviewing him for the first time "I don't care if Willie never wins an election. Just as long as he gets the truth to the people. Isn't that right Willie? Isn't it?" And he hesitates before saying "Yes that's right." So it seemed like he already had an agenda.

Also to top that, after preaching about better schools and child security, when those children died in the fire drill accident because of the loose ladder, he attended the funeral because he knew he would get a lot of people pumped up and ready to vote for him hence Hilary Clinton's quote "Never waste a good crisis." And sure enough some of the mourners start saying "God forgive me for not voting for him!" "You were right Willie. You were so right." and then we get a close up of his face--he has this really sly expression.

The point of All the King's Men is that politics DO NOT corrupt a person. The person is already good or evil and power will just BRING IT OUT MORE.