John Ireland received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Burden in All the King's Men.
Ireland never became a leading man and this performance here proves exactly why. Ireland fails to make the character of Jack Burden really come alive, as I think the film wants this to show both his and Stark's transformation over a course of time. Ireland never really gets under the skin of Burden to show very much of Burden. He never makes what his character does particularly understandable since he never really shows who his character really is and what he believes in. His character is indeed reactionary most of the time, but Burden is strange in that his reactions seem frankly to be too slow or at the wrong time. For example when he learns of Stark relationship with his old girlfriend Burden only reacts briefly to this and at the wrong time, and most of the reaction is done by slapping Mercedes Mccambridge.
I do not know what is wrong with the character of Burden precisely because it frankly could be either Ireland or how he is written in the film itself. The film does have his reactions at strange times, but Ireland does not contribute either with his charisma lacking performance, with some especially stilted line delivery at times. Burden's transformation should have been an important aspect of the film, but Ireland fails to realize the character at any phase of his transformation for his transformation really to mean anything. His character changes for sure, but Burden as a character always lacks an emotional pull of any kind, which I do think comes from both the weakness in the writing of the character, but also Ireland's lacking performance.