To audiences of this Oscar magnet in 1949, Broderick Crawford’s rapacious governor Willie Stark stood for Huey Long. A half-century of media-savvy politicos later, and Willie Stark could be everyone from G.W. to Clinton, depending on your leanings. A self-described (and self-promoting) hick, Stark proclaimed he was the voice of the people while filling his pockets with gold and his bed with the ladies. But like every good story, director Robert Rossen (riffing from Robert Penn Warren’s novel) knows the best part isn’t the peak, it’s the whack of the machete as the ambitious blaze their path to the top. And sorry Sean Penn, but you’re no Broderick Crawford, who devoured his bloody transformation from stuttering dullard to beast—and for it, won Best Actor.
Rossen’s black and white masterwork is all exaggerated angles and performances that should pop its credibility like an over-inflated balloon, yet somehow, the double-whammy of bombast stops just shy of overkill which leaves the viewer trembling in anticipation—a quality this handsome reissued DVD print captures faithfully. This week, skip the overbearing multiplex redux and invest in a classic guaranteed to feel fresh every election cycle. (Amy Nicholson) On DVD from Sony Home Pictures Entertainment