A Comparison between the movie, All The King's Men, and the Rule of Hugey Long

September 6, 2008
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All the King's Men, in both forms of movie and novel, is a work that depicts the rise to power of a simple man. The novel, written by Robert Penn Warren, and the Movie, written by Robert Rossen, are based on Hugey Long's quest for power in Louisiana. In these works the character parallel to Long is Willie Sparks. After watching the movie, Warren and Rossen's views on leadership and society are visible. Leaders are quickly corrupted and societies are gullible and quickly beguiled.

All of the King's Men movie depicts an effective leader who contains several traits: charisma, the desire to expose a corrupt government, leads in a time of need, quickly becoming corrupt due to leadership pressure, and emphasizing his commonalities with the people to gain votes. The necessity of charisma becomes apparent as Willie Sparks begins to run for office. Sparks begins his campaign by reading off his speech with little life and conviction. Though the speech he read contained many facts and statistics, the public doesn’t listen. After Sparks discovers that he had been manipulated in to running for office, he becomes drunk and is able to captivate the audience by his charismatic rage and delivery. Jack who is another main character in the story comments on Spark's speech, "The crowds loved it, and Willie loved it, and so did I." The act of becoming drunk was one of the first indications that Sparks was going to be corrupted by the pressure of power, if not the power itself.

During this speech, Sparks shows many aspects of his life that relate to the people. He begins his speech by listing several questions that show he understands what the people deal with. One of the questions states, "Listen to your stomach. Did you ever hear is rumble for hunger?" Later Sparks says many slightly offensive statements such as " A Hick like you" and later goes on to say, " I'm the hick they were gonna use to split the hick vote." This showed his audience that he too has been hurt by the corrupt government of their state. Sparks tells his story of how he became educated and how he grew up on a farm which showing his knowledge of the plights of the lower class. Sparks also brings religion into his speech saying, "Listen to me, and life up your eyes and look at God’s blessed and unfly-blown truth.” This quote appeals to another sense of the people. They think that since he is religious, he has a good moral code and they share religion. Sparks uses the public’s need to identify with a leader to help promote his political agenda.

Sparks was blatantly aware of the corrupt people who governed his town. Because of this, he wanted to expose them. After he discovered that they had hired faulty contractors to build the schools, he knew that he must begin to protest. Sparks' effort was met by much resistance. Even if Spark's whole motive was not only to expose the corrupt government, he does say in his drunken speech, "the school buildings collapsed 'cause it was built of politics' rotten brick..." This shows how he sees the government as corrupt and attempts to expose them to the citizens. What Sparks was referring to in the quote was the death of twelve school children who were killed during a fire drill. Sparks then leads the people who have been hurt by the accident after the people tell Sparks that he'd been right all along when he spoke against the town’s government. The people were looking for change and hope and looked to Sparks to lead them. It is true that Sparks may have just been looking to exploit the citizens' of their support in a time of need, but the fact that he had spoken against the building of the schools suggests that he had been concerned with the school children and their safety before the tragedy.

With becoming drunk before reading his first heavily applauded speech, Sparks had succumbed to be pressure of power. Yes, this is only a minor act, but with the first crack in his morals, many more unmoral acts were able to be committed with less resistance. Towards the end of the story, Sparks' intoxicated son is in a car accident with a girl. He prevents his son from having to face the consequences of his actions by hiding the fact that he was under any influences from the police report. A reader might interpret this as a father attempting to protect his son, but Sparks was trying to keep is own reputation intact. The father of the girl who was killed in the accident comes to see Sparks and his son and accuses them of hiding the fact that Sparks' son was drunk. When the son admits to being intoxicated while driving and decides he wants to deal with the consequences. Sparks refuses to let his son do so. Later, the girl's father is found murdered. Sparks is the prime suspect because of their confrontation. Leading up to this point, Sparks takes money to do deeds for people, and finds information about others to incriminate or black-mail them. Some could argue that this isn't as corrupt as many of the leaders of history, but the difference is that Sparks is the Governor of Louisiana while the other leaders rule countries or empires. If Sparks had been given the chance to lead on a larger scale, he could have become a horrid dictator like Hitler, Stalin, or Mussolini.

In addition to the depiction of leaders and leadership, society is described as well. The society is gullible and quick to follow. They want to be led instead of leading themselves. During the movie, this is visible when the funeral for the children concludes and the towns people come to Sparks and tell him that he was right all along and that they want to follow him. Some might say that they already knew his beliefs and that he had re-advertised them by attending the funeral, but it appeared that he was the only person who had ever acted for change. This scene also depicts a society where change only occurs after tragedy. No one, except Sparks, had investigated what could occur in the future because of actions made now. The accident with the school children is an example of this. Because of the fact that Starks is a "hick" the society feels as thought they can identify with him and trust him in his beliefs. This is true when Sparks makes his charismatic, intoxicated speech and has an immediate following. One could argue that he presented great ideas that appealed to the masses but Sparks says, "Now I'm not gonna lie to ya. He didn't start off thinkin' about the hicks..." This shows that he was not driven to run to make change for the people. It also shows that he can be selfish. This is a dangerous trait to have in a leader because they can be too concerned with what is good from himself instead of what is good for the masses. Lastly, a society will look over a leaders’ wrong doings if it accomplishes what they want. When Starks begins to build schools, roads, and hospitals, the society overlooks the fact that he takes bribes and people who oppose him mysteriously disappear. The society described through All the King’s Men, is an ignorant, lost society, looking for change.

Both the movie and the novel, expose the dangers of a corrupt leaders and ignorant societies. Moral leaders can be easily corrupted by the pressures of leadership and sincere societies can be blinded by hope for change. Many different factors can effect the outcome of a leader’s goals as well as the way in which they obtain power.





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