Huey Long: Ken Burns’ Terrific Documentary

“Huey Long,” Ken Burns’ terrific documentary, is a follow up to his Oscar-nominated “The Statue of Liberty.”

Trying to bring new insight to his subject, Burn is not interested in the question of whether the politician Long was good or evil.  He knows that Long’s saga was a tragedy on a grand Shakespearean level and as such a good story to tell. The positive and negative aspects of Long’s personality remain vital and intriguing decades after his death.

The 1930s Depression era produced some remarkable American characters, but perhaps the most extraordinary and frightening was Long, who came out of Louisiana to become Governor and then U.S. Senator.  In the process, he created a political machine that brought Louisiana into the 20th century, but at the same time was decadent and corrupt.

Burn’s documentary evokes Long and the socio-economic conditions in which he lived.  Using newsreel footage, the film creates a portrait of a man, a time, and a place.  There are contemporary interviews with historian Arthur Schlesinger, I.F. Stone, and Mrs. Hodding Carter.

Robert Penn Warren, whose novel All the Kings Men was later made into a 1949 Oscar-winning film by Robert Rossen and was inspired by Long, is also included among the witnesses.

The film illuminates Long as a prototype politician, who FDR once called one of the two most dangerous men in America; the other being General McArthur.  Long was the forerunner of a number of third party politicians, such as George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Henry Wallace. Though assassinated decades ago, in 1935, he has remained a figure of interest open to various interpretations.