A fine adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer novel, chronicling the rise and fall of Southern demagogue Willie Stark (Crawford), a thinly disguised portrait of Huey Long, the Louisiana state governor and US senator whose career - a fine record of civic improvment turned to ashes by an uncontrollable greed for power - was ended by assassination in 1935. The thesis is basically that power corrupts, with Stark presented as a man who starts out with a burning sense of purpose and a defiant honesty. Rossen, however, injects a note of ambiguity early on (a scene where Willie impatiently shrugs off his wife's dream of the great and good things he is destined to accomplish); and the doubt as to what he is really after is beautifully orchestrated by being filtered through the eyes of the press agent (Ireland) who serves as the film's narrator, and whose admiration for Stark gradually becomes tempered by understanding. Given that Stark's relationship with his son builds latterly to some overheated melodrama, the first half of the film is by far the best, but Rossen retains his grip throughout; and the performances (Crawford, Ireland and McCambridge especially) are superb.
Cast and crew