Broderick Crawford nabbed an Oscar for his portrayal of Huey Long-ish politico Willie Stark in All the King’s Men, and while his full-bodied performance still holds up nearly six decades later, the rest of Robert Rossen’s Best Picture winner (based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel) has lost a good deal of its fierce luster. Hailed for its grittily authentic take on backwater Southern politics and the sleaze that infested it, the film now seems less a masterpiece of realism than merely a well-made – and moralizing top-heavy – Hollywood production about absolute power’s penchant for corrupting absolutely. Disgusted by the crooked officials in his Louisiana hometown, populist redneck Stark runs for office, appealing to his fellow “hicks” with a straight-shooting platform that – once he’s elected, and hungrily takes to his newfound clout – quickly goes by the wayside. As in Warren’s book, the story’s protagonist isn’t Stark but his right-hand man, idealistic former journalist Jack Burden (John Ireland), who like everyone else (including Burden’s childhood love) is so seduced by Stark’s everyman speechifying that he fails to see the monster his hero is becoming. Rossen’s efficient direction includes a number of skillful touches, including an early glimpse of Stark ignoring his wife as she criticizes the powers-that-be which hints at the man’s faulty altruism and foreshadows his impending plummet from grace. Yet even with Best Supporting Actress winner Mercedes McCambridge lending a dose of sexual desperation to the proceedings as Stark’s campaign manager/mistress Sadie Burke, All the King’s Men rails against demagoguery with fire in its belly but an unwelcome amount of flaccid didacticism – an increasingly frustrating fact given that the film’s primary positions are definitively made long before the fall-to-pieces finale.