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All the King's Men

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One of my favorite novels, All the King's Men, is being made into a film for the second time. Sean Penn may play the lead.

Here's the story.

Sean Penn is being courted to take the lead role in a remake of All the King's Men, based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer prize-winning novel about a barnstorming southern politician.

The Columbia Pictures production begins shooting in September in locations around New Orleans with Steven Zaillian in the director's chair. Louisiana-born James Carville, who masterminded Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, has signed on as executive producer.

The original 1949 movie was directed by Robert Rossen and won Oscars for Broderick Crawford, playing Willie Stark, and Mercedes McCambridge as his machiavellian mistress.

The character of Stark is believed to have been based on true-life Louisiana governor Huey Long, who was assassinated in Baton Rouge in 1935. Penn Warren's tale charts the rise and fall of a charismatic populist who becomes fatally corrupted by his lust for power.

Zaillian remains best known as the writer of Schindler's List and Gangs of New York, although he has directed such critically rated movies as A Civil Action and Searching For Bobby Fischer. Penn is still flush from his success in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, which won him this year's best actor Oscar.

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Woo-hoo! All the King's Men is one of my favorite novels, too (been years since I read it; maybe I should start rereading now). Loved the book and had to seek out the film after finishing it. Despite all the praise and awards, I found it to be pretty underwhelming. Definitely looking forward to this.

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Hm. Sean Penn, eh? What do they mean by "the lead"? I don't see him as Willie Stark. He hasn't got the charm. Try Dennis Quaid, who did such a charmingly sleazy Louisiana cop in The Big Easy. He's only 6 years older than Penn.

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Hm. Sean Penn, eh? What do they mean by "the lead"? I don't see him as Willie Stark. He hasn't got the charm.

Perhaps I need to curb my enthusiasm. You make a good point, Beth. By "lead," I'm thinking they'd have to mean Willie Stark. They couldn't mean Jack Burden, could they? Hm, indeed.

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By the way, Diane, I like your Dennis Covington sig-line.

Louisiana-born James Carville, who masterminded Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, has signed on as executive producer.

I've got it! James Carville should play Willie Stark! :wink:

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By the way, Diane, I like your Dennis Covington sig-line.

Thanks. It's kind of funny because I took a class of his in college and was kind of disappointed. But hey, the man provided a great quote, IMHO.

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Penn hasn't the charm, eh? I think he's got the chops for it. His work in Fast Times shows charm. I think he'd be an improvement over Crawford.

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Woo-hoo! All the King's Men is one of my favorite novels, too (been years since I read it; maybe I should start rereading now). Loved the book and had to seek out the film after finishing it. Despite all the praise and awards, I found it to be pretty underwhelming. Definitely looking forward to this.

Three years ago Harcourt Brace issued the original "author's version" of the novel - with about a hundred pages originally intended by Warren to be included, and with the lead character's original name, Willie Talos, included. (The publisher felt that name was "too ethnic," according to one of the guys who launched an RP Warren symposium timed to the release, and who I got to interview at the time ... woo-hoo!)

I also loved the novel -- well, loved in the sense that you "love" something that's really hard work but enriches you in the end -- and sought out the movie afterward. What a giant disappointment -- Broderick Crawford was badly miscast, and the script had stripped away all of the novel's philosophical insight, instead turning the story into a political soap opera. Only Mercedes McCambridge captured the essence of the novel in her character - if only she'd gotten more screen time.

So I went back to the book and assembled my "dream cast." I can't really complain about the cast they've assembled because it sounds killer, but here's how mine would go:

Russell Crowe as Willie (Talos) Stark - he's got the depth to play Willie's humble start as an honest but downtrodden do-gooder, then onto embittered, cynical victim; and finally, the power broker who broke others at his own whim.

Kevin Spacey as Jack Burden. Even though Spacey has hidden his talents in stinkers of late, we know he can play the subtleties of this tortured "second lead."

Julianne Moore as Anne Stanton. Moore came to mind because this was during her "50s heroine" stage (The Hours and Far From Heaven).

Cate Blanchett as Sadie. Aside from the fact she's fabulous, Blanchett's less-than-drop-dead-gorgeous, ordinary woman look contrasts with the breathtakingly beautiful Anne, her rival. (I always give Blanchett a role in my fantasy casting because she's great, but this is a role she's made for.)

John C. Reilly as Dr. Adam Stanton.

Brad Renfro as Willie's son.

John Goodman as Tiny Duffy.

Ellen Burstyn as Jack's mother.

Robert Duvall (another guy who always ends up in my dream casts) as the Judge.

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So I got the DVD of the original film out of the library today.

I had also asked the library to put a hold on the novel for me, and so I've got that too -- but the novel I have is a "restored edition" that "has been established by Noel Polk from Robert Penn Warren's typescripts at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. The novel's original opening chapter and an Editorial Afterword appear at the end of the restored text."

So, um, in other words, this is the UNEDITED novel? The version that Warren would have posted to his blog, instead of the version that would have been published, say, in serial form by a magazine?

I'm familiar with "director's cuts" and "restored editions" of MOVIES. But THIS is a little weird.

And I'm not sure if I, as one who is completely unfamiliar with this novel, should read THIS book or if I should go looking for the version that was ORIGINALLY published.

At any rate, I shall be watching the 1949 film, for sure. Assuming there is only one version of it -- or, if there is more than one version, that I have got the right one.

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So I got the DVD of the original film out of the library today.

I had also asked the library to put a hold on the novel for me, and so I've got that too -- but the novel I have is a "restored edition" that "has been established by Noel Polk from Robert Penn Warren's typescripts at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. The novel's original opening chapter and an Editorial Afterword appear at the end of the restored text."

So, um, in other words, this is the UNEDITED novel?  The version that Warren would have posted to his blog, instead of the version that would have been published, say, in serial form by a magazine?

I'm familiar with "director's cuts" and "restored editions" of MOVIES.  But THIS is a little weird.

And I'm not sure if I, as one who is completely unfamiliar with this novel, should read THIS book or if I should go looking for the version that was ORIGINALLY published.

I'm not sure how this is different from A Clockwork Orange, which was originally published in the US sans the final chapter (due to publisher's demands), but now has the full compliment.

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Well, I'd say there's a big difference between hacking off an entire chapter and making subtle changes to the wording throughout the entire book.

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Well, I'd say there's a big difference between hacking off an entire chapter and making subtle changes to the wording throughout the entire book.

Hmmm. You said earlier, wrt All the President's Men
the novel I have is a "restored edition" that "has been established by Noel Polk from Robert Penn Warren's typescripts at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. The novel's original opening chapter and an Editorial Afterword appear at the end of the restored text."
Are there more changes throughout the book than these additions? Because that would be kinda weird. Closest I could think where I've seen that before is in the original publication of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land vs the edition that is usually sold today. Edited by solishu

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So, um, in other words, this is the UNEDITED novel?  The version that Warren would have posted to his blog, instead of the version that would have been published, say, in serial form by a magazine?

Are there more changes throughout the book than these additions?  Because that would be kinda weird. 

When the restored version was released in 2001, I worked on its promotion with the publicity folks at Louisiana State University, where Warren had taught. It's not exactly an unedited version, but it's quite a bit "weightier" than what was originally published. For e.g, the philosophical musings of the narrator, Jack Burden, are much more detailed in the restored edition. (I'm going on faith here because I've only read the restored edition, not the original published version.) Also, Warren had intended in his original novel to make a clear connection between Classical mythology and the downfall of Willie Stark, but much of that was softened by editors who felt the material was too erudite. Burden's musings on sex and sexual attraction were also heavily edited but are included in the restored edition - quite tame by 21st century standards, but potentially scandalous at the time, the editors felt.

One of the biggest changes that reportedly irked Warren badly was that he had named his protagonist "Willie Talos" - but his editors felt the name was of vague ethnic origin. They forced him to dub the character "Willie Stark" which they claimed was "Americanized." But according to one of the people who worked on the restoration, this was a behind-the-scenes attempt to give the character a German-sounding surname - what better ethnicity for a fictional dictator in 1946?

So, whether it's better to read the restored or edited version is a matter of personal opinion, I suppose - detractors of "restored" editions say, as Peter suggests, that manuscripts are edited for a purpose; while defenders say the restoration gives a clearer picture of the author's intentions.

In the case of ATKM - again, having only read the restored version, I can't say which is more valuable - but I can say the restored version is beautifully written, clearly plotted, and philosophically challenging.

As for the 1949 film - just curious if you've watched it yet, and what you think. I hated it. For one, Jack Burden is arguably the real protagonist of the novel - this is his story, as told through his experience with Willie (Talos) Stark. In the film, he's reduced to an observer. And Broderick Crawford was miscast, IMO - I never bought him as a good ol' Louisiana boy, or his transition from idealistic lawyer to ruthless political boss.

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As for the 1949 film - just curious if you've watched it yet, and what you think. I hated it. For one, Jack Burden is arguably the real protagonist of the novel - this is his story, as told through his experience with Willie (Talos) Stark. In the film, he's reduced to an observer. And Broderick Crawford was miscast, IMO - I never bought him as a good ol' Louisiana boy, or his transition from idealistic lawyer to ruthless political boss.

Agreed with these comments Mark. I too was not at all impressed with the film, and I haven't even read the book, so I had nothing to compare it to. It's been a number of months since I've seen it, but I remember thinking it dragged on way too long, and that, as you make reference to, Broderick Crawford was not at all compelling or believable. I'm not sure if that's a problem with the acting, casting, writing, or all three, but when your film centers around him, it's a problem.

I have wondered since then what would have made the film successful enough to garner a Best Picture win. My opinion is that the far majority of BP winners aren't really the BP that year, but this one seems particularly bad. What was the cultural climate like that made this a compelling film for people?

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Sorry, haven't seen the film yet. Hope to soon, though.

I wonder if this new film will be based on the "restored" version of the book, rather than the earlier edition?

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All The King's Men is one of my favourite American novels as well and it's great to see it getting respect here because it seems to get left out of most great novel lists. The Stark character and his relationship with the narrator as well as his relationship with the person who eventually applies the coup de grace in the novel have haunted me for years (trying to avoid a spoiler there.) Penn Warren was a superb poet as well, one called Little Girl Wakes Early is one of the most moving poems I now. I've always wondered how close Stark was to the real Huey Long, one of the interesting features of the book is that Stark does quite a deal of good and while his motives are not always pure there is a germ of decency in him. Does anyone know how the Kingfish is regarded in his home territory these days?

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I have wondered since then what would have made the film successful enough to garner a Best Picture win. My opinion is that the far majority of BP winners aren't really the BP that year, but this one seems particularly bad. What was the cultural climate like that made this a compelling film for people?

Just a guess, but the book's cachet probably had at least a little to do with it. The Academy loves to appear literate and high-minded, so why not vote for a film based on a Pulitzer-winning novel, even if it's a crappy adaptation? smile.gif Then again, it 1949, it might not have seemed so crappy as compared with other commercial films. It was probably regarded as at least a serviceable version of the novel, whereas by contemporary standards it just seems poor.

I wonder if this new film will be based on the "restored" version of the book, rather than the earlier edition?

Haven't been able to figure that out either, though I'd guess it's based on the originally published version since, IIRC, the project was in the works before the restored edition was released.

On a related note, according to a USA Today story from last week, Steven Zaillian deliberately avoided watching the 1949 film so he wouldn't unintentionally copy it. I'd say he'd be better off watching it so he can see how not to do it!

I've always wondered how close Stark was to the real Huey Long, one of the interesting features of the book is that Stark does quite a deal of good and while his motives are not always pure there is a germ of decency in him. Does anyone know how the Kingfish is regarded in his home territory these days?

From my dealings with colleagues in Louisiana, I'd guess he's regarded pretty much that way, as a scoundrel who did a lot of good. One of the reasons the movie didn't work is that Stark functions on only two speeds - kind-hearted humanitarian at the start; ruthless power-monger by his demise. There are no shadings as there are in the novel, or in reality. Despite Long's significant faults, he's probably regarded in Louisiana as neither fully hero nor fully villain, but as a forceful engine of economic and cultural progress - someone who broke a lot of eggs to make his omelettes.

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I just started watching the film, and looked up some of the actors' names at the IMDB. It turns out John Ireland, who plays reporter Jack Burden, was the first Vancouver-born actor to be nominated for an Academy Award (and for this very role).

Also strange to see John (future husband/director of Bo) Derek looking so young in this film. Seven years later he would co-star with another Vancouver-born actor, Yvonne De Carlo, in The Ten Commandments.

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"King's Men" to get royal treatment at Toronto fest

The Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday said the Sean Penn-starring drama "All the King's Men" will receive a red-carpet world premiere at the 31st edition of the fest, which runs September 7-16. . . .

Steven Zaillian's "All the King's Men," an adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's novel of the same name, features Penn as Willie Stark, a charismatic Southern politician bound as much to idealism as to corruption and a lust for power. The Sony Pictures film also stars Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Anthony Hopkins.

Fittingly, the movie was shot in Louisiana; Penn Warren based his novel in part on the populist Louisiana governor Huey P. Long. Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo round out the cast. . . .

Hollywood Reporter, July 6

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I haven't read it in, oh, twelve years, but I remember that of the novels I read during SPU's English-major program, I enjoyed this one as much as any of the other novels we studied. I'm eager to read it again.

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Steven Zaillian's "All the King's Men," ... also stars Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Anthony Hopkins.

More Brits attempting Louisiana accents. I know they have to cast Big Stars, but after suffering through Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson in Judas Kiss (also set in Louisiana), I'm filled with--maybe not dread, but at least mild anxiety. Because I would like to see this film succeed--the novel is awesome (she said, going all fangirl).

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Steven Zaillian's "All the King's Men," ... also stars Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Anthony Hopkins.

More Brits attempting Louisiana accents. I know they have to cast Big Stars, but after suffering through Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson in Judas Kiss (also set in Louisiana), I'm filled with--maybe not dread, but at least mild anxiety. Because I would like to see this film succeed--the novel is awesome (she said, going all fangirl).

Winslet has always been convincing as an American, IMO - but whether she pulls off a Louisiana accent, hmmm...

Hopkins has never been able to convince me he's an American, no sir, not even in his most celebrated roles (Hannibal Lector's country of origin is never established, is it? I prefer to think of Dr. Lector as a transplanted Brit, or South African, or anything other than American ... Sir Anthony is just too Sir Anthony ...)

Jude Law was convincing enough in Cold Mountain, but that was North Carolina, not Louisiana.

I'd pay just to see Patricia Clarkson (a native Louisianan, IIRC) as Sadie Burke, the role that won Mercedes McCambridge an Oscar in the original (and not very good) film version.

That makes me wonder ... has an actor ever won an Oscar for a remake, playing the same role that won the actor in the original an Oscar? That sentence gives me a headache, but the question is intriguing ... I can't think of any case, and would love for Clarkson to be the first, just because she's awesome.

(And I'm also looking forward to seeing Mark Ruffalo as Adam Stanton, but would have cast him in the meatier role of Jack Burden if it were up to me.

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Hopkins has never been able to convince me he's an American, no sir, not even in his most celebrated roles (Hannibal Lector's country of origin is never established, is it? I prefer to think of Dr. Lector as a transplanted Brit, or South African, or anything other than American ... Sir Anthony is just too Sir Anthony ...)

I may be the only person on Planet Earth who thinks Nixon should've swept the top Oscars the year it was released. That includes an Oscar for Hopkins in the leading role.

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