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Viewer Guide: All the King’s Men and The Maiden Heist

July 24, 2020 | Richard Peña


All the Kings Men (1949)

This week’s classic is All the King’s Men, the 1949 political film noir, directed by Robert Rossen.

Adapted from Robert Penn Warren’s 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the King’s Men was inspired by the true-life story of Huey Long, whose controversial political career reached its peak as governor of Louisiana in 1928 and then as state senator in 1932. In an Oscar-winning performance, Broderick Crawford plays a fictionalized version of Long named Willie Stark, a self-proclaimed “hick” and novice politician striving to stand up for the common man in the face of an entrenched political establishment. Although it takes a while for his movement to catch fire, Willie’s heartfelt appeals eventually start to connect with a variety of listeners, from the common man voters he claims to represent, to the party bosses who are determined to maintain the status quo. John Ireland co-stars as Jack Burden, an idealistic newspaper reporter assigned to cover Willie’s seemingly irresistible rise; gradually, Jack finds himself becoming more and more embroiled in Willie’s career. Initially convinced of Willie’s unimpeachable integrity, Jack finds himself increasingly disturbed by Stark’s tactics, as the fledgling candidate eventually learns what it takes to win—and to create a new kind of political power.

Also featured in supporting roles are Joanne Dru as a governor’s daughter and Jack’s would-be romantic interest, Mercedes McCambridge, giving an Oscar-winning performance as a hard-driving campaign manager, and John Derek as Willie’s troubled adopted son.

Writer-producer-director Robert Rossen had first offered the role of Willie Stark to John Wayne, but Wayne dismissed the script as unpatriotic—only to see Broderick Crawford take the year’s Oscar for Best Actor over Wayne’s nominated performance in Sands of Iwo Jima. In addition to Broderick Crawford’s Oscar, Mercedes McCambridge was honored for Best Supporting Actress, with the film itself garnering Best Picture; however, Rossen’s career high abruptly ended in 1951 with his blacklisting during the HUAC era. In 1953, Rossen returned to HUAC and finally did “name names,” allowing him to once again work in Hollywood but forcing a permanent break with many of his old friends. Rossen would enjoy another “career high” with 1961’s The Hustler, after which he would go on to make only one more film, Lilith, an original if somewhat unsettling work that remains a cult favorite in France.


The Maiden Heist (2009)

This week’s indie is The Maiden Heist, a comic crime caper from 2009 directed by Peter Hewitt.

If you’ve ever wondered how museum guards occupy themselves throughout their long shifts day after day, The Maiden Heist offers a fanciful answer. Christopher Walken stars as Roger Barlow, a longtime guard in an unnamed Boston museum rapidly approaching retirement. With ample opportunity to study the art works on the walls, Roger has become especially fascinated with “The Lonely Maiden,” a prime example of “an offshoot of the Northern French naturalist movement,” for those who are wondering. Gazing devotedly into the lonely maiden’s expression, described as being of “desperate longing and overwhelming passion,” Roger is much more than just an expert on the painting; he’s figuratively fallen in love with it. And when he hears the news of the sale of the painting to a Danish museum, Roger is devastated. But his anguish is soon softened by the realization he’s not alone in his heartbreak; two other guards have also developed “special attachments” to certain works. Morgan Freeman co-stars as Charles Peterson, a kindly artist in his off-hours who has similarly unrequited feelings for the “Young Girl with Cats.” And the military-minded George McLendon, played by William H. Macy, has an obsession with “Bronze Warrior,” a muscular, nude male sculpture that inspires George to secretly display his admiration in reciprocally clothing-free fashion. Banding together, these three extra-passionate art connoisseurs hatch a plan to keep their objects of affection close to home, with the trio becoming the most unlikely of bungling burglars. And watching it all from the sidelines in a steadily increasing state of confusion is Roger’s wife Rose, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who’s just trying to take a Florida vacation.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard about this fine comedy it’s because just as it was about to be released The Maiden Heist, ran into a sea of troubles. Despite being able to boast a cast of three Oscar winners with Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and Marcia Gay Harden, as well as an Oscar nominee in William H. Macy, The Maiden Heist, fell prey to the 2008 economic downturn and never received its originally intended theatrical release. Financed by producer Bob Yari—one of the producers behind the Best Picture Oscar-winner Crash in 2004—Yari’s distribution company went bankrupt soon after its successful world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival and the American economy entered the treacherous ups and downs of the 2008 recession. The hedge funds that the film’s producers had been counting on to generate the backing for the $20 million marketing campaign quickly evaporated. And with the film’s DVD and Pay-TV rights already pre-sold, there was little hope of another theatrical distributor picking up the movie. Languishing without a clear path forward for several months, the film was finally released on DVD in May 2009.

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