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Robert Rossen's onscreen credit reads "Written for the screen and directed by." Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was loosely based on the life and career of Louisiana governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long (1893-1935), whose "Share-the-Wealth" national program featured the slogan "Every man a king." As governor, Long, nicknamed "The Kingfish," instituted a successful program of public works and welfare legislation. Noted for his demagoguery and the political machine he created in Louisiana, he was assassinated while serving as a U.S. Senator. Although Long's son Russell denied that there was any resemblance between "Willie Stark" and his father, Broderick Crawford studied newsreel footage of Long while preparing for the film, according to a 1950 article in Los Angeles Times.
In adapting the novel for the screen, Rossen made many changes: While the focus of the film is the character of Willie Stark, Jack Burden is the focus in the novel. Willie's political party is unidentified in the picture, as is the state that elects him to political office. In the film, Jack provides an intermittent voice-over narration. Portions of the film were shot on location in small towns near Stockton in central California. According to a July 3, 1947 Los Angeles Daily News news item, Humphrey Bogart was considered for a lead role. In 1948, Norman Corwin was hired to write a draft of the screenplay, according to a March 29, 1950 Hollywood Reporter article. After the release of the film, questions arose about the extent of Corwin's contributions to the completed film, but the Screen Writers Guild judged Rossen to be the sole writer. John Derek completed this film prior to Knock on Any Door , but Knock on Any Door was released first and is generally considered to be Derek's debut film. After Rossen took the Fifth Amendment when he was questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951, Columbia broke all connections with him and bought all rights and residuals in the films he made for the studio, including All the King's Men and The Brave Bulls. In 1953, Rossen again appeared before the committee and named fifty-seven people in Hollywood who had at one time belonged to the Communist Party.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture; Crawford won the Oscar for Best Actor; and Mercedes McCambridge, who made her screen debut in this picture, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film also received the following Academy Award nominations: John Ireland, Best Supporting Actor; Rossen, Best Director and Best Screenplay; Robert Parrish and Al Clark, Best Editing. In 2005, Columbia Pictures produced another version of Robert Penn Warren's novel under the same title, directed by Steven Zaillian and starring Sean Penn, Jude Law and Kate Winslet. The film was planned for a December 2005 release.