All the King’s Men, Robert Rossen (1949)

It must be a lot of fun to do the programming at Turner Classic Movies. Someone, clearly, thought that the week of the apotheosis of the Obama health care reform journey called for a showing of this powerful accounting of the costs incurred by the practice of retail politics. Had you forgotten, as I had, that the central plank of Willie Stark’s platform is universal health care? And do you recall how he meets his end? I won’t spoil it for you; let’s just say the medical profession doesn’t exactly rush to his aid in his moment of need.

It’s a politics story, but it’s also a Southern story, in ways which I probably wouldn’t have understood ten years ago, before moving to Alabama. Issues of dilapidated family pride and post-Reconstruction sullenness, which of course also animated Faulkner, Walker Percy, Welty, and Tennessee Williams are central here, too.

It’s a big book, and even a movie more than two hours long can’t begin to get its arms around all the novel’s moving parts, so some passages here feel stunted and lacking context. Still, it’s a lively piece and worth watching. After you call your representative and tell him or her to vote yes on the Senate bill this week.

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