Another Epiphany Poem, This One By George Mackay Brown
All the King's Men: Spoilers Allowed

All the King's Men: The Movie

I meant to mention this a couple of weeks ago. After reading the book, I wanted to see the film, and did. I'm talking about the 1949 one, with Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark.

Three-word opinion: it's pretty good.

Slightly more expansive opinion: it doesn't do justice to the book, which of course you wouldn't expect it to. Apart from the fact that movies pretty much never can do justice to a good novel, this one is dependent on the narrator's introspection to a degree that would be difficult or impossible to transfer to image and dialog. And it either leaves out or changes a lot of very important things. But that really can't be avoided if you're trying to fit the book into two or three hours.

Still, taken on its own, it's a good film. I only knew Broderick Crawford as the hero in the old TV series Highway Patrol, but he's very credible in this role. John Ireland is okay as Jack Burden, but the character is pretty reduced in the film. Likewise for Joanne Dru's Anne Stanton. The real standout character portrayal is Mercedes McCambridge as Sadie Burke, Willie Stark's political guide and gadfly, and also his lover. She's perfect, even down to her physical appearance. 

I was very grateful for one way in which the filmmakers departed from the book: they made no particular effort to place it in the South, and did not make their actors attempt Southern accents with the preposterous results that used to follow from that effort. Still does sometimes, but actors have gotten a lot better, especially those amazing British ones. The location is in fact California, but could be any area of rural 1940s America. 

I don't know about "very great." That's Sadie Burke to the left of the big title card.

The DVD included some promotional stuff for the 2006 adaptation starring Sean Penn does apparently set the story in the South, and judging by the clips it doesn't work very well. Sean Penn's accent is not terrible but it's not good enough not to sound false. I'm not in any hurry to see this one though I may eventually, just out of curiosity. 


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I just finished the book this morning. That man can really write! It's so encouraging to think that there are books out there that are this great that I haven't read.

I would say more but it's spoiler-ish.


I believe this version of ATKM won the Oscar for Best Picture, Mac.

I bought a copy of the book on Amazon, but it is the "restored edition", whatever that means. Wasn't paying attention when I ordered it, I suppose. Hope it works, since my $10 is already spent! Looking through it seems that the original first chapter is at the back as an appendix, so I could just start there, but don't know what else might have been changed. Seems ridiculous that someone would go and change a book that I'm sure the author could have done during his lifetime if he wanted to.

I read the restored edition Stu. Iirc, Polk restored some things that RPW wanted to keep but the publisher made him change. I think there's an intro or appendix that explains it all. I've not read the original version, but I thought the restored one was very good. Noel Polk, by the way, was the scholar who prepared the "authoritative" versions of Faulkner's novels when they were republished in the 80s and 90s.

"I may eventually, just out of curiosity."

I saw it when it came out for the same reason, as I had read the book not very long before. I think it was something of a lost opportunity. Good forces, good intentions, but a lackluster product, unfortunately.

Well, the original has the one unspeakable word all over the place. Maybe they took it out.


That was my first thought, too, when I read Stu's comment. But sounds like this Polk guy knows what he's doing. My second thought is that the first chapter needs to be where it is but maybe there's some good reason.

I noticed, btw, that, as we speculated, the unspeakable word is used in dialog but not in the narrator's words (as far as I noticed).

I don't think that is accurate, at least not in my copy


I wasn't really looking for it but I did notice one case where the narrator said "Negro" and the next sentence was a bit of dialog where someone said the other word. That may not have been consistent.

There's an exchange of letters between Noel Polk and Joyce Carol Oates at the NY Review of Books about her review of the restored edition of the book, which she didn't like.

Part of what Polk wrote: "Those who want to read editors instead of authors can certainly do so, but in the case of the 1946 All the King’s Men they will read, have been reading, a book edited by a man who didn’t like the novel’s Cass Mastern episode, for example, which readers and critics have for half a century now thought to be among Warren’s best sustained narratives; the typescript provides evidence of the numerous ways in which the original editors simply didn’t understand the novel they were editing; they created problems because they didn’t."

Part of what Oates wrote: "That Robert Penn Warren, novelist, poet, essayist, and shrewd literary critic, not only approved the original 1946 edition of his most famous novel but oversaw numerous reprintings through the decades, including a special 1963 edition published by Time Inc. with a preface by the author, and did not “restore” any of the original manuscript, and did not resuscitate “Willie Talos,” [the original name given the Willie Starks character] is the irrefutable argument that the 1946 edition is the one Warren would wish us to read."

Well, heck, what are the rest of us supposed to think? I lean toward Oates's view, without having read the "restored" version. If indeed the first chapter has been removed or moved somewhere else it would take some convincing for me to think that's an improvement. I grant that it starts slowly but it puts important things in place.

I'll have to look in my copy to see if/why the first chapter was moved or removed. I do remember that one of the things Polk said was that in the edited version certain things did not make sense chronologically compared to the original, as if the editor(s) had unknowingly messed up the timeline.

The first chapter is chronologically in the middle of the story, after Stark's rise and before things start to fall apart. But that in itself is certainly not a problem or even very unusual in fiction, so surely that's not what he's talking about. But maybe there are some inconsistencies that I didn't notice.

Talos is a really weird name for Willie.

I wish I could see the two editions together. I don't even understand what the restored edition


Yes, Talos is very odd.

"Talos is a really weird name for Willie."

I thought so too at first, but then I wondered if it was because I had gotten so used to hearing "Stark" over the years.

It just isn't the name of a Southern pig farmer.


I don't think so. It seems very un-Southern. Except for some coastal areas Southern names are overwhelmingly of British Isles derivation and "Talos" doesn't seem like one of those. As far as I can remember I've never heard it, here or anywhere else. I even wondered if it's meant as a hint toward "telos". That would be crude.

I'll stick with the restored edition and see where that gets me. Good to see all of this information!

Can we have a spoilers thread?

When was it restored? And by whom? And in what way?


Wikipedia says: "The novel evolved from a verse play that Warren began writing in 1936 entitled Proud Flesh. One of the characters in Proud Flesh was named Willie Talos, in reference to the brutal character Talus in Edmund Spenser's late 16th century work The Faerie Queene."

About Talus, wiki says: Talus, an "iron man" who helps Arthegall to dispense justice in Book V. The name is likely from Latin "talus" (ankle) with reference to that which justice "stands on," and perhaps also to the ankle of Achilles, who was otherwise invincible, or the mythological bronze man Talos.

I see, but I don't believe anybody who lived in the rural South back then would have voted for anybody with a name like that. ;-)


On the subject of 'political' novels, I've seen quite a few recommendations of Edwin O'Connor's 1956 book The Last Hurrah over the past few years.

Yes, it is very good, but not so good as ATHM, or O'connor's other novel, The Edge of Sadness. The latter is not political. When we were first talking about ATKM, before Maclin had written about it, I thought it would be more like The Last Hurrah, but it is only superficially similar, except that the political boss in TLH has a nephew who is following him around and learning from him. He is the opposite of Burden, though, rather naive and optimistic.


I found a book of conversations with Robert Penn Warren at Google Books, and it makes it very clear that "Stark" was the name Warren wanted:

In the original version [a verse play] my politician was not named Stark, but Talos--[Talus is] the name of the "Iron Groom," the robot, the servant to the Knight of Justice, in Spenser's Faerie Queene. This was a sort of private joke, but it indicates the line of thought, and Talos does sound like a "Southern" name.
Then later:
All the King's Men is a novel, but it started out as poetry, a verse play. The original idea was implicit in a single word, the name Talos, my first name for Willie Stark and also the name of the groom in book five of The Faerie Queene. I was thinking that people like Hitler or Huey Long are machines, executing the will of Justice. Reducing it to one word is purely private. As for the verse play, I later saw that it left out the action and complication necessary to show that power--the man of power--flows into a vacuum: a vacuum in society, government, or individuals. So my man Talos became Stark, whose power fulfills the weakness of others.
I think I have to agree with Joyce Carol Oates that what Noel Polk did was "unconscionable, unethical, and indefensible".

Dang, I knew that about the verse play and the Talus character. Or maybe I should say I had read it, because apparently I didn't *know* it. Had forgotten everything except that the novel had originated in a verse play.

On the face of it I'm inclined to agree with Oates, too, Marianne.

"...whose power fulfills the weakness of others." Obvious comparison to Trump there. Or to any demagogue, I guess.

Okay, so it sounds like me that some of you know the answer to my questions about the restored version. I wish someone would answer me.


Janet, I haven't read the restored version, but the editor, Noel Polk, talks about the changes he made in an Editorial Afterword in that version -- you can read some of the pages of that at Google Books.

I did a search on "the one unspeakable word" and it's still there in a lot of places.


At least the "restoration" wasn't bowdlerizing. Sounds like there are legitimate literary arguments for it. Not necessarily correct but at least legitimate.

Did you see the question about a thread for spoilers?


I did but I was extremely busy yesterday and not in a position to think about it. I just created a separate post for it. Hated to declare this one open for spoilers since Stu is about to read it.

Right. I wanted a separate one.

Read fast, Stu.


Thanks for this, Maclin. As soon as I figure out how to get my husband's BP medicine on his new insurance, I will have some stuff to say.


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