Monday, May 16, 2016

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

This long presidential campaign year called to my mind an American classic about politics. There was the Pulitzer Prize book All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, a novel influenced by the career of Louisiana politician, Huey Long. The book was made into an Academy Award winning movie in 1949, starring Broderick Crawford as Willy Stark and John Ireland as the reporter Jack Burden. Another movie version in 2006 was set in the 1950s instead of the Depression. It starred Sean Penn as Willy Stark and Jude Law as Jack Burden, but was not as well received.

In all these treatments, the story unfolds as Jack Burden reports on it. Willy Stark is poorly educated and working class, but determined to make things better for people like himself, even if it means the plantation gentry and businessmen must pay for it. Cynical reporter Jack Burden comes from the upper class that despises hicks like Stark, but Burden gets caught up in Stark's story when he tells Stark the fat cats are just using him to manipulate the voters. This betrayal launches Stark on a charismatic populist campaign that wins him the election. Once in office, he hires Burden and gradually both of them become corrupted by power.

If you are not yet tired of politics, all of these three versions of All the King's Men are available from the Virginia Beach Public Library. And if you want more, there is All the President's Men, which consciously echoed the title of the earlier work.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

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