ACADEMY AWARD WINNER: BEST PICTURE
A political reformer, hungry for power to do “good,” becomes thoroughly corrupt on his way to the top. [Dir: Robert Rossen/Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge/ 109 min/ Drama/ Power Corrupts, Corrupt Government]
See if the plot of this film sounds familiar: A young lawyer named Willie is elected Governor of a “hick” state. He makes free medical care the centerpiece of his agenda. He fools around with many women not his wife. He gets involved in a variety of shady deals and cover-ups. Finally, he is impeached but not removed from office. Yes, this is the art that 1990s political life seems to have imitated.
Oh, and if those parallels aren’t enough, just listen to Willie’s political program: “You want to know what my platform is? Here it is: I’m gonna soak the fat boys, and I’m gonna spread it out thin.” There has probably never been a more eloquent summary of the Left’s agenda and you just know that in some quiet, unobserved moment Bill Clinton said those very words.
Of course, Willie isn’t corrupt at first. His earliest run for office is a genuine, heartfelt campaign against entrenched, dishonest politicians. He loses. Over time, he learns that to win in politics, to get the power to do “good,” he first has to participate in bad—to cut political deals, take bribes, sell out. The good, he imagines, justifies the bad. But in the end, so much bad is required to maintain power that he is no better than those he originally kicked out of office.
This film has a fine script, said to be inspired by the rise and fall of Louisiana governor Huey Long. Mercedes McCambridge gives an outstanding performance as a cynical political hack, and Broderick Crawford is terrific in the leading role as Willie. It’s a well-made film in many respects, if not quite the “great” one its three Academy Awards (including Best Picture) might suggest.