Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Huey Long, Russell Long, David McCullough, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., I.F. Stone
Director: Ken Burns
The story of Huey Long is the quintessential drama of power and ethics. To his constituents, he was a populist hero. To his critics, he was the unscrupulous "dictator of Louisiana" who didn't break the law, but used the la... more »
EXCITING, THOUGHTFUL, IMPARTIAL HISTORY
Curtis Crawford | Charlottesville, VA United States | 04/13/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"America's memory of Huey Long owes a lot to two films: this 1985 documentary by Ken Burns, and Robert Rossen's 1949 movie, "All The King's Men." Both the documentary and the movie portray a hero of the common people, who rises to be dictator of his state, then falls to an assassin's bullet. Yet there are large differences.
The movie was inspired by Robert Penn Warren's novel of the same title, which in turn was inspired by Long's career (a fact that Warren famously and unconvincingly denied). The movie's hero (named Willie Stark) is very bright, but a hick - a redneck - by birth and childhood circumstances. His political career only catches fire when he learns to hammer his audiences with the tough sternness of a hick pounding fellow-hicks.
In contrast, Huey Long, in the documentary, is born to a hardworking, middle-class family, which sent most of its offspring to college, at a time when only one in twenty American children had that privilege. Huey was an accomplished debater in high school, and a persuasive salesman in his first full-time job. After just a year in Law School, he passed the bar, and soon was elected, at age 24, to the Louisiana Railroad Commission.
The movie confines Stark's political career to governor and boss of his state, and his policies primarily to state-sponsored public works, e.g., highways, public education, hospital care. The documentary adds Long's years as United States Senator, crusader for the redistribution of Americans' wealth, and probable candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 1936.
The documentary includes colorful excerpts from Long's speeches, crusading against economic inequality: "4% of the American people own 85% of the wealth of America," while "70% of the people of America don't own enough to pay the debts they owe." "The Lord has answered the prayer, he has called the barbecue. Come to my feast, he says to 125 million American people. He has invited Americans to his feast, but Morgan, Rockefeller, and Mellon and Baruch have walked up and took 85% of the victuals off the table. Now, how ya gonna feed the balance of the people? What are Morgan, Rockefeller, Mellon and Baruch gonna do with all that grub? They cain't eat it, they cain't wear the clothes, they cain't live in the houses. Give `em a yacht! Give `em a palace! Send `em to Reno & give `em a new wife if they want, if that's what they want. But when they've got everything on God's living earth that they can eat, and they can wear and they can live in, and all their children can wear, and live in, and eat, and all their children's children can use, we gotta call Mr. Morgan and Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Mellon back, and say: Come back heah, put back on this table heah what you took away from heah, the stuff you don't need; leave something for the American people to consume."
The documentary notes the tremendous public response to Long's crusade, but fails to take seriously his plan for redistributing American wealth. The plan is not described; its merits, pro and con, are not weighed. This failure is my reason for giving Burns' work four, rather than five stars. I won't try here to discuss the merits of the plan, but its main provisions -- very large taxes and subsidies -- are stated below. I found them in a slim book of Long's speeches, entitled "Kingfish to America: Share Our Wealth," edited by Henry Christman,1985, and available on Amazon.
By taxing savings and property, the wealth of the very rich would be reduced, so that "no one would own more than 3 or 4 million dollars." Income would also be taxed, to "limit the total anyone could earn or inherit in one year to $1 million." [These 1934 limits were actually less severe than they sound in 2009. Due to inflation, one million 1934 dollars would equal over 15.4 million 2009 dollars, and four million 1934 dollars would equal over 61 million 2009 dollars.]
The money thus gained was estimated to provide every needy family in America with "a home and the comforts of home, including such common conveniences as a radio and an automobile, free of debt." The government would "guarantee food and clothing and employment for everyone who should work, by shortening the hours of labor to thirty hours per week, and to eleven months per year." Education would be free for every child, not just through high school, but on through college and vocational education. Everyone over 60 years old, whose income was less than $1,000 per year, or whose net worth was less than $10,000, would receive a pension sufficient to support them in comfortable circumstances.
An American Character
Thomas Grover | Naples, Florida | 06/25/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This video is just the ticket if you want a brief but thorough overview of the life and times of Huey Long, a larger than life politician whose life was cut short by an assassins bullet."
Mud on the Feathers but Still Flyin'
Doc Arnett | Missouri Frontier, USA | 03/15/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Engaging, repulsive, remarkable, corrupt, conniving, accomplished, effective, diversive and arrogant. If you recognize that all of those terms and a few hundred others have been used to describe the subject of this Ken Burns profile of Huey P. Long, you already know the Kingfish. This is an excellent documentary for those with an interest in Huey Long or for those merely curious about him. Burns presents a plethora of perspectives from a variety of people familiar with Long in differing ways. The Kingfish would have heavily edited Burns' version and might well have had him kidnapped to prevent its release. But that shrewd rascal would have loved his inclusion of the comments of "the poor people" who clearly loved Huey P. It becomes very clear that the former Louisiana governor and state senator was a dramatically polarizing personality whose individual ambitions were so intertwined with his determination to improve the lot of marginalized people along the backroads and bayous that simple assessment becomes impossible.
While we may be disappointed that Burns spends so little time with the assassination, we surely appreciate the rich tapestry of Long's career, personality and style. Burns does not attempt the conventions of simple explanation and consensus opinion; with Huey P. Long, that simply is not possible. What he does give us is a very comprehensive sampling of often conflicting perceptions from diverse characters, some of whom are quite colorful themselves."