A review of the 1949 film “All The King’s Men”

January 16th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

This classic film – which was remade in 2006 – is based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Penn Warren published in 1946. It tells the story of the rise to power of charismatic and populist Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) who storms his way to becoming Governor of a Southern US state in the Depression era.

Along the way, a host of characters, including narrator and political journalist Jack Burden (John Ireland) and campaign assistant Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge), bend to his will, even when knowing just how venal and corrupt he is. The movie won three Academy Awards – one for Best Picture and others for Crawford and McCambridge – but nothing for writer, producer and director Robert Rossen. 

At the time of the film’s release, viewers would have seen in the morality tale a reflection of the career of Louisiana governor Huey Long. Today, so much of the dialogue and so many plot points seem eerily prescient as the playbook of President Donald Trump.

Towards the end of the film, Stark is impeached by the state’s House of Representatives and, as the Senate decides whether to uphold the charge, it is surrounded by baying, ultra-loyal Stark supporters. It is entirely a coincidence – it just happened to be on television – that I caught this movie the week that Trump fanatics stormed the Capitol and Trump was impeached (for the second time) by the House.

Jack Burden explains how it’s done: “Appeal to their emotions. Make them laugh; make them cry; make them mad, even if they get mad at you. But for heaven’s sake, don’t try to improve their minds.” And Sadie Burke states of her boss: “He’ll ditch everybody in the whole world, because that’s what Willie wants. Nobody in the world but him!”

Remind you of anybody?

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“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama (3)

January 15th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Barack Obama’s presidency began at the height of the subprime mortgage fiasco in the housing market which occasioned a triple economic crisis: the worst recession since the Great Depression, a near collapse of the banking system, and an impending bankruptcy of America’s leading car manufacturers. The stock market had lost 40% of its value and unemployment would eventually reach 10%.

The recession was addressed by the 1,073-page American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which was passed in the first month with “precisely zero Republican votes” in the House and just three GOP votes in the Senate in spite of Obama’s heroic efforts to reach across the aisle.

The housing crisis was countered by the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). The banking system held up following a bold formula of institutional stress tests carried out by the Federal Reserve. And the car industry survived with General Motors being restructured and Chrysler going into partnership with Fiat.

Obama acknowledges that “my administration’s handling of the financial crisis still generates fierce debate“. He explains that: “For many thoughtful critics … the fact that I had engineered a return to pre-crisis normalcy is precisely the problem – a missed opportunity if not an outright betrayal”.

He is honest with readers: “I wonder whether I should have been bolder in those early months”. But he concludes: “my first hundred days in office revealed a basic strand of my political character. I was a reformer, conservative in temperament if not in vision”.

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Just how deadly was 2020?

January 14th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

“Official statistics released on Tuesday showed 2020 was the deadliest year in England and Wales for more than a century. More than 608,000 people died last year, 81,653 of whom as a result of coronavirus.

Deaths exceeded 600,000 for only the second time on record, and the toll was just behind that of 611,861 in 1918, the worst year of the flu pandemic.”

This is a quote from an article in today’s “Guardian” newspaper.

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How do the political systems of the United States and the United Kingdom compare with one another?

January 13th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

As the US House of Representatives considers a (second) impeachment of President Donald Trump, many are observing the procedures of the US Congressional system. The majority of visitors to this blog are British or American. So how do the political systems of the two nations compare?

You can check out my comparison here.

Elsewhere on this web site, I have outlined in some detail explanations of both the American political system [click here] and the British political system [click here].

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“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama (2)

January 11th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Each time we go into lockdown, I find a really long book to read. In this third lockdown, I’m working my way through the first volume of Barack Obama’s presidential memoirs. In fact, it is 200 pages into the 700 page text before he wins the presidency.

First, he tells us about his time at Columbia University in New York, his work as a community organiser in Chicago, his studies at Harvard Law School, his period as a Illinois state senator, and his unsuccessful attempt to enter the House of Representatives. He is frank about the strain that his political ambition put on his marriage to Michelle. He admits that “we began arguing more” with “my marriage strained”.

Yet, two years after his defeat, he runs for the US Senate – a decision he acknowledges represents “brashness” and “sheer chutzpah” – and wins easily in a race that “felt charmed”. Fascinatingly, one of his initiatives in the Senate was “funding to safeguard against a pandemic outbreak”.

As if such a meteoric rise was not enough, just two years into what should have been his first six-year term as a senator, Obama decided to have a go at the White House. In these memoirs, he spends more space describing the tough battle to win the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton (85 pages) than he does narrating his easier fight in the general election against John McCain ( 50 pages).

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A review of the 1959 classic film “Ben-Hur”

January 10th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Astonishingly this movie was nominated for no less than 12 Academy Awards and managed to win 11 of them, a feat not equalled until “Titanic” 40 years later. I say astonishingly because it is really not that good.

The cinematography in Panavision is wonderful and the chariot race is genuinely exciting, but the plotting is slow, most of the dialogue is leaden and a fair bit of the acting is forced, while the appearance of Jesus and the incidence of a miracle appear out of sorts with today’s more secular days. Nevertheless, at the time, the film was a great commercial success which saved MGM from bankruptcy. 

Based on a 19th century novel by civil war general Lew Wallace, it is a strong story of conflict between former childhood friends, Roman officer Messala (Stephen Boyd) and Jewish dignatory Judah Ben-Hur in Roman-occupied Judea at the time of Christ.

At some three and a half hours, the material before and after the chariot race should have been shortened, but the race itself was a triumph for winner of three Best Director Academy Awards, William Wallace. It required 15,000 extras on a set constructed on 18 acres at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome and it took five weeks to film.

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Happy 75th anniversary to the United Nations

January 10th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

The first meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations started 75 years ago today. The event ran from 10 January to 14 February 1946.

But where did you think this meeting was held? Not in the subsequent headquarters of the UN in New York City which I’ve visited a couple of times. No, it was in my city of London in a building that I’ve visited countless times. The building is the Methodist Central Hall opposite Westminster Abbey.

So now you know.

During the appalling US presidency of Donald Trump, the United States – while hosting the UN – has played a very poor role in this institution, even planning to withdraw from the World Health Organisation. This should all change with Joe Biden in the White House.

Never have we more needed international cooperation to tackle global problems like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, poverty and refugees.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)

What happens now in the United States of America?

January 7th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Commentators are calling for Donald Trump to be removed from the US presidency by invocation of the 25th amendment of the US Constitution which requires the Vice-President and half the cabinet to declare the president unfit to perform the duties of his office. Realistically, this isn’t going to happen.

The Vice-President and officers appointed by Trump himself will not have the conviction and courage to act in this way. In the unlikely event that they did, it is possible that such action would massively inflame Trump’s supporters who sadly are almost half the nation.

I think the best thing now is for the Trump administration effectively to be shut down for the remainder of his term of office.

We need to see resignation after resignation after resignation. We need those remaining in post to refuse to comply with any unreasonable instruction from the President. This must include his security detail, the secret service, the military, the national guard, and police forces.The media should stop carrying his utterances; he should simply be ignored. Social media should cut off his feeds at least until he is out of office.

In short, Trump should be reduced to a man who can do nothing.

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A review of the 2010 film “Letters To Juliet”

January 6th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

I once made a day trip to Verona in Italy and visited the courtyard where there is a balcony and statue of Juliet as an evocation of the play by Shakespeare. At the time, I didn’t realise that people left letters to Juliet pressed into the walls and that a volunteer group answered any of these communications which carries an address.

This charming film concerns a young American woman Sophie (Amanda Siegfried) who finds a letter written by a British woman called Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) which has laid hidden for 50 years. Sophie writes to Claire, encouraging her to search out the Italian she loved and left so long ago. Will Claire find her Lorenzo and, in helping Claire with her search, will Sophie find her own happiness? Well, what do you think?

Although predictable and sentimental, the movie is amusing and romantic, while the location shooting in Verona and Siena is a delightful bonus.

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A review of the 2016 film “The Promise”

January 6th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Set in in the collapsing Ottoman Empire during the First World War, “The Promise” is both a love-triangle and an historical drama. Brilliant Armenian medical student Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) and intrepid American war reporter Chris Meyers (Christian Bale) both fall for the beautiful Armenian-born but French-raised Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon) in a part of the world where the Turks are turning on the local Armenians in what will soon become a genocide.

The film has been controversial for two reasons.

First, Turkey still denies that there was a genocide in 1915-1923 resulting in the death of over a million Christian Armenians at the hands of local Muslim forces. The Turks lobbied against the making of the film, the $90M budget for which was totally funded by Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian who died at 98 two years before the film’s release. However, over 30 countries, including the United States, France and Germany but not Britain, have recognised the systematic killings as constituting genocide.

Second, some critics and viewers have criticised the work for its fore-fronting of the love triangle – at the heart of which is the promise of the title – rather than the genocide itself. Yet “The Promise” is hardly the first movie to tell a big political and military story through the eyes of a small number of individuals who are romantically entwined (think, for instance, of “Dr Zhivago”) and, without this story, it is likely that even fewer people would have viewed the movie than actually did.

The three leading characters in the film are fictional, but a couple of minor characters – such as the American ambassador and the French admiral – are real and the historic framework is accurate if one-sided. British director and co-writer Terry George – who made the political drama “Hotel Rwanda” – can be proud of this work and I wish that more people would see it and think about the events it portrays.

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