This film won best picture instead of earning critics’ ridicule like the remake. And I would have to say it is vastly superior in almost every way. The visual aesthetic is perhaps more pleasing in 2006’s picture but that’s a very peripheral trait to have. The original has better acting, better line delivery, a much better plot, and much better character arcs. The only other thing the remake has over it is unintentional hilarity.
Jack Burden isn’t the sole focal point of the storyline here, as Willie Stark has much more screen time and we learn just why Jack is interested in Willie moreso than before. Willie becomes corrupt a bit more gradually this time around and still shows human characteristics, he’s not the over the top crazy Sean Penn version but a sensible power hungry dictator instead.
While the ends are questioned in the later film the original focuses on the means, a much better functionality. Of course Willie Stark wants to help the people, it helps him to stay in power. He has his hands in the muck because it’s the best way for him to operate, the crowds singing his praise not only because he paid for them but also because they believe in him. Stark’s wall begins to crumble, but he survives impeachment only to be slain by the much better characterized doctor.
Jack isn’t an ineffectual moron with a terrible accent in this rendition either, he’s an interested observer in Stark’s work. While he fails to capitalize on his love interest it isn’t for such a ludicrous overplayed reason like it is in the remake. He acts and behaves like a 1940s man would. Even the quotes from this movie vastly outdo anything in the second rendition. “There is no God but Willie Stark and I’m his prophet and you’re his…” this even functions as a slight criticism of the Socialism advocated by the real life Huey Long and really any communist dictator, while I don’t necessarily agree with the reasoning it is fantastically purveyed on the screen.