Director Robert Rossen may not have had Orson Welles’ knack for big screen spectacle but this Oscar-winning riff on a "Citizen Kane" theme is all the more successful for its lack of embellishments. Broderick Crawford (Best Actor Oscar) is magnificent as he evolves from soft-spoken hick to growling egotistical demagogue hungry to reshape the world in his own image yet determined to deliver on every grandiose promise even if the means don’t justify the ends. And Rossen’s script (based on Robert Warren Penn’s Pulitzer-winning novel which was loosely based on the real life exploits of a Louisiana senator) carefully catalogues how one man’s slide into moral bankruptcy ultimately corrupts everyone close to him including idealistic newspaperman Jack Burden (John Ireland) who goes from dutifully reporting the truth to wielding it like a political weapon and a tough-talking campaign manager (Mercedes McCambridge, Best Supporting Actress) whose admiration for the gubernatorial Frankenstein she helped create eventually crosses that thin line. A choppy editing style spiced with whirling campaign trail montages keeps the action moving at a clip and aside from a final frame that flirts with Shakespearean overkill Rossen keeps things grounded and believable—every character seems to struggle with good and evil including Stark’s own upright country wife (Anne Seymour) and resentful son (John Derek). Ironically, only Burden’s thoroughly capitalist stepfather, a most unlikeable cynic, sees the writing on the wall when everyone else is blinded by visions of stars and stripes and apple pie. Staunch Republican John Wayne was originally offered the leading role but turned it down accusing the film of “smearing the machineries of government” and “throwing acid on the American way of life”. Considering some of the White House scandals which came later the Duke’s admonishments ring hollow indeed.

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