All the King's Men (1949 film)

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Life is the farce which everyone has to perform.
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All the King's Men is a 1949 film about the rise of politician Willie Stark from a rural county seat to the spotlight who, along the way, loses his initial innocence, and becomes just as corrupt as those whom he had previously assaulted.

Directed by Robert Rossen. Written by Robert Rossen, based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren.
He Might Have Been A Pretty Good Guy ... If Too Much Power ... And Women ... Hadn't Gone To his Head ! taglines
Spoiler warning: Plot, ending, or solution details follow.

Willie Stark

  • Why have they used every dirty method known to make sure I'm not elected County Treasurer? Well, I'll tell ya why - because they're afraid of the truth, and the truth is this. They're trying to steal your money. Yeah, I said steal. The County Commissioners rejected the low bid on the schoolhouse. Why? Well, they'll tell ya the reason is the job will be done better. The County Commissioners would have you believe that they're interested in public welfare. They're interested in welfare, sure, but it's their own.
  • I'm gonna run and you're not gonna stop me. I'm gonna run even if I don't get a single vote.
  • My friends. I have a speech here. It's a speech about what this state needs. There's no need in my telling you what this state needs. You are the state and you know what you need. You over there, look at your pants. Have they got holes in the knees? Listen to your stomach. Did you ever hear it rumble for hunger? And you, what about your crops? Did they ever rot in the field because the road was so bad you couldn't get 'em to market? And you, what about your kids? Are they growing up ignorant as dirt, ignorant as you 'cause there's no school for 'em? No, I'm not gonna read you any speech. [He casts his speech away behind him] But I am gonna tell you a story. It's a funny story so get ready to laugh....Get ready to bust your sides laughin', 'cause it's sure a funny story. It's about a hick. A hick like you, if you please. Yeah, like you. He grew up on the dirt roads and the gully washes of a farm. He knew what it was to get up before dawn and get feed and slop and milk before breakfast, and then set out before sunup and walk six miles to a one-room, slab-sided schoolhouse. Aw, this hick knew what it was to be a hick, all right. He figured if he was gonna get anything done, well, he had to do it himself. So he sat up nights and studied books. He studied law, because he thought he might be able to change things some - for himself and for folks like him. Now I'm not gonna lie to ya. He didn't start off thinkin' about the hicks and all the wonderful things he was gonna do for 'em. Naw, naw, he's done it all thinkin' of number one. But something came to him on the way. How he could do nothin' for himself without the help of the people. That's what came to him. And it also came to him with the powerful force of God's own lightning back in his own county when the school building collapsed 'cause it was built of politics' rotten brick. It killed and mangled a dozen kids. But you know that story. The people were his friends because he'd fought that rotten brick. And some of the politicians down in the city, they knew that, so they rode up to his house in a big, fine, shiny car and said as how they wanted him to run for governor...And he swallowed it. He looked in his heart and he thought, in all humility, how he'd like to try and change things. He was just a country boy who thought that even the plainest, poorest man can be governor if his fellow citizens find that he's got the stuff for the job. All those fellows in the striped pants, they saw that hick and they took him in...Now, listen to me, you hicks. Yeah, you're hicks too, and they fooled you a thousand times, just like they fooled me. But this time, I'm gonna fool somebody. I'm gonna stay in this race. I'm on my own and I'm out for blood. Now listen to me, you hicks! Listen to me, and lift up your eyes and look at God's blessed and unfly-blown truth. And this is the truth. You're a hick, and nobody ever helped a hick but a hick himself!...I'm the hick they were gonna use to split the hick vote. Well, I'm standin' here now on my hind legs. Even a dog can learn to do that. Are you standin' on your hind legs? Have you learned to do that much yet?
  • Money, I don't need money. People give me things...because they believe in me.
  • I have nothing to hide - I'll make a deal with the devil if it will help me carry out my program. But believe me, there are no strings attached to those deals.
  • Do you know what good comes out of?...Out of bad. That's what good comes out of. Because you can't make it out of anything else. You didn't know that, did you?
  • There's a time to talk and there's a time to act. I think the time to act is right now, and with your support, I not only will win, but I will do all of the things I promise. I need your help - oh, I need it badly, but I'm not gonna beg for it. In the name of this state, which we love, in the name of the governor in whose house we meet, I demand it.
  • I'm going to build a hospital, the biggest that money can buy, and it will belong to you. Any man, woman, or child who is sick or in pain can go through those doors and know that everything will be done for them that man can do. To heal sickness, to ease pain, free - not as a charity but as a right. And it is your right, do you hear me? It is your right. And it is your right that every child should have a complete education. That any man that produces anything can take it to market without paying toll, and no poor man's land or farm can be taxed or taken away from him. And it is the right of the people that they shall not be deprived of hope.
  • I'll tell you what you are. You're scared. You sat in that big easy chair of yours for thirty years and played at being a judge. And all of a sudden, I came along and put a bat in your hand and I said, 'Go ahead, judge, start swinging,' and you did, and you had a wonderful time. But now you're scared. You don't want to get your hands dirty. You want to pick up the marbles, but you don't want to get your hands dirty. Look at my whole program, Judge. How do ya think I put that across?...You're not by any chance thinkin' of going over to McMurphy's boys, are ya?
  • Jack, there's something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.
  • You know, Judge, dirt's a funny thing. Some of it rubs off on everybody.
  • They tried to ruin me but they are ruined. They tried to ruin me, because they did not like what I have done. Do you like what I have done? Remember, it is not I who have won, but you. Your will is my strength, and your need is my justice, and I shall live in your right and your will. And if any man tries to stop me from fulfilling that right and that will, I'll break him. I'll break him with my bare hands, for I have the strength of many.
  • Could have been whole world - Willie Stark. The whole world - Willie Stark. Why does he do it to me - Willie Stark? Why?

Jack Burden

  • [in his newspaper article] As I watched him shake his big fist and listened to his words boom out across that field, I had the feeling that here was a man with a will of iron. I had the feeling that Willie Stark would neither be steered away nor scared away from his purpose. I had the feeling that in Willie Stark, Kanoma County had found that rare thing: an honest man with courage.
  • [about Burden's Landing] It was separated from the mainland by a body of water. For the first time, I wondered if it wasn't separated by more than that.
  • Just tell 'em you're gonna soak the fat boys and forget the rest of the tax stuff...Willie, make 'em cry, make 'em laugh, make 'em mad, even mad at you. Stir them up and they'll love it and come back for more, but, for heaven's sakes, don't try to improve their minds.
  • But Willie wasn't drifting. He knew where he was going. He had his foot in the door and he kept right on pushing to get in. He had lost the election, but he had won the state - and he knew it, and the people knew it. They were all hopping on his bandwagon, even Tiny Duffy. Yup, Willie came back like he said he would...
  • Willie was right. He'd learned how to win. He spent a lot of money doing it. An awful lot of money. I was beginning to wonder where he got it from. There were rumors throughout the state that Willie was making deals with all kinds of people, strange deals...The second time out, it wasn't a campaign, it was a slaughter. It was Saturday night in a mining town. Yup, Willie came back like he said he would. He came back and he took me with him.
  • What if it is his bribe? He swept the old gang out of office. What if they hollered like stuck pigs? He jammed through bill after bill and the people got what they wanted...He started to build the roads, schools, power dams, to change the face of the state from one end to the other. His methods? Politics is a dirty game and he played it rough and dirty. Willie's little black book was a record of sin and corruption. And me, Jack Burden, I kept the book and added up the accounts. Clown, show-off, playboy they yelled at him. Building football stadiums, fiercely proud of his son who played...He said he was building up a private army, but he was building, always building, always playing up to the crowd, letting them trample on tradition. Well, tradition needed trampling on. The crowds loved it, and Willie loved it, and so did I.
  • I kept saying to myself that Willie was wrong about the judge. If there was anything left at Burden's Landing, it was honor. I had to believe that.
  • Will I find anything, Judge? Will I? I didn't find it all at once. It takes a long time to go through old courthouse records and musty deeds, a very long time. But it wasn't too hard for me. I was well trained in research, especially this kind. I found what I didn't want to find.
  • Now he had us all, me, Anne, and Adam. Now we all worked for him.
  • The chips were down and Willie knew it. He was fighting for his life. He roared across the state making speech after speech and all of them adding up to the same thing. It's not me they're after, it's you. Willie hollered FOUL. Willie knew if you hollered long enough, hard enough, and loud enough, people begin to believe you. Just in case they didn't, he organized spontaneous demonstrations....In case anyone hollered back, he organized spontaneous slugging. Willie pulled every trick he ever knew - and added a few more...And always the trail led to one place, to Burden's Landing and the Judge.

Sadie Burke

  • [to Willie} You've been framed, you poor sap...Oh you decoy, you wooden-head decoy, and you let 'em. You know what you are? Well, you're the goat. You are the sacrificial goat. You are a sap because you let 'em...They didn't have to pay a sap like you. Oh no. You were so full of yourself and hot air. All you wanted was a chance to stand up on your hind legs and make a speech, 'My Friends. My Friends, What This State Needs is a Good Five-Cent Cigar'.
  • Yeah, I can see it. I gotta look in the mirror to be able to see it. Soft white skin, not like mine. I had smallpox when I was a kid. Where I lived, it seemed nearly all the kids had smallpox. It leaves your face hard. And she's got poise. Look at the way she holds her head at just the right angle. That takes training, that takes years of training. I see what Willie sees. Willie's got big ideas, Jack...A girl like that could be a governor's wife or even a president...He ditched Lucy, he ditched me, and he'll ditch you...He'll ditch everybody in the whole world because that's what Willie wants. Nobody in the world but him...You and your high-toned friends. What do they know? What do they know about anything? Why did you have to mix her in?

Others

  • Editorial: Kanoma's recent school tragedy serves as a potent reminder that a man named Willie Stark, a citizen of Kanoma City and defeated candidate for County Treasurer, fought bitterly against the awarding of our schoolhouse contract. His was "the voice in the wilderness" that fell on deaf ears, and the children of Kanoma City paid the price. Nothing can ease the pain in the brave hearts of our bereaved parents who suffered their loss bravely.
  • Richard Hale: [to Willie] I remember when you first started talking, in a place called Upton. You did a lot of talking then, and the things you said made sense to me and a lot of other people. I believed in you, I followed you, and I fought for you. Well, the words are still good, but you're not. And I don't believe you ever were.
  • Adam Stanton: [to Willie] You stay on your side of the fence, I'll stay on mine.
  • Newsreel: And so the eyes of the entire nation are now focused upon Governor Willie Stark. An amazing phenomenon on the American political scene. The whole state is filled with his accomplishments. Each one of them, of course, bearing his personal signature to make sure that no one will ever forget who gave them to the state. This is the way the roads used to be, but there are those who claim that they were adequate for the people's needs, that you don't need a four or six lane highway for a horse and buggy. When Stark boasts of his great school system, his critics say, 'You can't go to school and work in the fields at the same time,' and they question the benefit of these projects, charging that the need and poverty of the people is as great as before. Willie Stark has never forgotten the source of his power - the people who supported him. He still keeps his touch with these people of the backwoods, making periodic trips to such places as Kanoma City, now famous as his birthplace. For those who say that Willie Stark is a man of destiny, there are others who claim that he is a man of evil, a man who cares neither for the people or the state, but only for his own personal power and ambition. Obviously, these ambitions go far beyond the boundaries of the state. Just how far, only time will tell. Meanwhile, he is here, and from the looks of things, he is here to stay. Willie Stark - Messiah or Dictator?
  • Radio news reporter: A medical examination revealed that he was beaten to death. The ugly charge of official murder has been hurled at the administration by a coalition of Stark's opponents led by Judge Stanton, lately an outspoken critic of the administration. Thus, an almost forgotten incident provided the spark that might set off the explosion needed to rock Willie Stark out of power. The latest report is that impeachment proceedings may be instituted...
  • Judge Stanton: I made a mistake once, Jack, when I resigned, but it was too easy then just resigning and pulling out. Well, Jack, I've made my choice. I have nothing more to lose.

Dialogue

Jack: Anne, Burden's Landing is a place on the moon. It isn't real. It doesn't exist. It's me, pretending I live on what I earn. It's my mother, trying to keep herself young and drinking herself old doing it. She and Adam living in this house as though your father was still alive. It's an old man like the judge, dreaming of the past. Anne, come away with me.
Anne: And do what?
Jack: Live in a shack and eat red beans. Anne, what do you want me to do?
Anne: Oh Jack, you haven't been sure. You've gone from one thing to the other. A year at law school and now this job as a reporter.
Jack: Are you afraid I can't make a living?
Anne: Oh no Jack, it isn't that. I don't care about the money. It's just that I, I want you to be something.
Jack: What is it you want me to be?
Anne: I don't know. It's just that I want you to be, to do something important.
Jack: Like your father? All right, I'll run for governor. Anne, I'm sorry, I'm sorry I said that.
Anne: All right, Jack. I'll go away with you. I'll do anything you want me to.
Jack: I've wanted you to say that more than anything in the world. And now that you have said it - Anne, I guess you were right. I'm not sure of anything, including myself. I'm not sure I could live up to the...Anne, wait for me. Please wait for me.
Anne: I'll wait for you.

Jack: You don't have to be smart to frame a guy like Willie Stark.
Sadie: No, no brother, you don't.
Jack: It is a frame, isn't it?...To split the vote and win the election for Harrison, huh?
Sadie: You know, why do ya ask?
Jack: I just want to make sure. Look, why don't you tell the boys to save their money? Willie couldn't steal a vote from Abe Lincoln in the cradle of the Confederacy.
Sadie: I wish the poor ...had enough sense to have somebody give him a good reason for the beating he's going to get. 'Cause this way, all he gets out of it is the ride. Hey, those speeches, ain't they awful? Ain't they just plain awful? Question to you: If somebody told him he was a sucker, do you think he'd quit?
Jack: I don't know, Sadie. I really don't know.

Sadie: How'd you get him here? He was out stiff.
Jack: The hair of the dog that bit him.
Sadie: Hair? He must have swallowed the dog.

Jack: I learned something from him [Willie]. You can't make an omelette without cracking eggs.
Adam: Or heads?
Anne: But at least a hospital will be built and the sick will be cared for.
Adam: At what price?
Jack: At any price.
Adam: Do you really believe that, Jack?
Jack: I really believe that Stark wants to do good. You do too. It's a matter of method. Many times, out of evil comes good. Pain is evil. As a doctor, you should know that.
Adam: Pain is an evil. It is not evil. It is not evil in itself. Stark is evil.
Jack: The people of this state don't think so.
Adam: How would they know? The first thing Stark did was to take over the newspapers and the radio stations. Why be so afraid of criticism? If Stark is interested in doing good, he should also be interested in the truth. I don't see how you can separate the two. No, Stark is not for me.
Anne: No, Stark is not for you. Well, what's for you? Pride, pride, that's all it is, foolish, stupid pride. All you've ever talked about is what you could do if somebody would tear down and build. All right, all right, somebody has and he's given it to you. But he's not for you. No, he's not for you.

Jack: Why did you do it?
Anne: He wasn't like anybody I ever knew before.
Jack: You mean he wasn't like me.
Anne: He wasn't like anybody I ever knew before. I love him, I guess. I guess that's the reason.
Jack: Everybody loves him.
Anne: He wants to marry me.
Jack: Are you going to?
Anne: Not now, it would hurt him. Divorce would hurt his career.
Jack: His career!
Anne: Jack, Jack, what are you going to do? You can't leave him now. He needs you now more than he ever did before.
Jack: What Willie needs, Willie's got.
Anne: You don't know him. You've known him all these years and you don't really know him at all.
Jack: What about Adam?
Anne: Adam?
Jack: Well, you don't have to worry about him. If Adam finds out, it'll be easy to prove a Stanton is no different than anyone else. Just show him these. [He hands her evidence he uncovered about her uncle] Willie was right. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption, even Judge Stanton. Show them to him, Anne. Change the picture of the world that Adam has in his head, just like our picture of it has been changed. Wipe out everything he's ever believed in, it'll be good for him. There's no god but Willie Stark. I'm his prophet and you're his... Anne, Anne, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Anne.

Tom: Now he needs us, now that he's in trouble, he needs us so he can lead us around like monkeys with rings in our nose so he can say to people, 'Look at me, feel sorry for me. Just a family man with a wife and a crippled son.'
Willie: Shut up!
Lucy: Willie!
Tom: Why don't you leave us alone?..
Willie: How many scrapes have I gotten him out of? How many girls?
Lucy: Willie, stop!
Willie: It's not him they're after, it's me. How many half-witted apes do you think I'm gonna have to pay to square this one? What do you think this is gonna cost me?
Lucy: What do you think it cost him?
Willie: A man builds for his son, that's all he builds for.

Anne: I tried to explain to him that it wasn't the way he thought it was.
Jack: How was it, Anne? You tell me.
Anne: He hit me, Jack. My own brother, he hit me.
Jack: Your brother's an old-fashioned man. He believes in his sister's honor. Me, I'm a modern man, the 20th-century type, I run.
Anne: I'm frightened, Jack.
Jack: For who, your brother or Willie?
Anne: We're through.
Jack: Who's through with who?
Anne: He called me this afternoon. He's going back to Lucy. He said it was better this way.
Jack: Better for who, him?
Anne: Both of us.
Jack: Did he tell you that too when he asked you to betray the judge? At least I walked out on him.
Anne: Oh Jack, help me, please! Please! Adam's all I've got left now. Oh Jack, if you ever loved me.
Jack: If I ever loved you? ...I'll go find Adam.

Jack: Anne, where are you going?
Anne: I don't know. Leave me alone.
Jack: To do what?
Anne: I don't care.
Jack: No, that's too easy.
Anne: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!
Jack: I do.
Anne: Leave me alone, please.
Jack: No, no more.
Anne: He's dead.
Jack: We're alive.
Anne: My brother's dead.
Jack: We've got to go on living.
Anne: How?
Jack: So that Adam's death has meaning. So that it wasn't wasted. Anne, our life has to give his death meaning. Don't you see that? Look at those people. LOOK AT THEM! They still believe. And we've got to make them see Willie the way Adam always saw him or there's no meaning in anything, anything.

Taglines

  • He Might Have Been A Pretty Good Guy ... If Too Much Power ... And Women ... Hadn't Gone To his Head !
  • He thought he had the world by the tail - till it exploded in his face, with a bullet attached!

Cast

External links