Oh those crazy Southern politicians!
As I’ve mentioned in a few other reviews, filmmakers have always loved to make movies about the crazy demagogues that we have historically tended to elect down here in the South. Sometimes, those movies are serious and thought-provoking, like All The King’s Men. And sometimes, like in Hold That Co-Ed, a film will attempt to play up the inherent humor in rabble rousing. And then you’ve got films like Ada and Hurry Sundown, which are so melodramatic that those of us down South just have to shake our heads in amazement that people up North actually believe this stuff.
The 1989 film Blaze (which is currently making the rounds on cable) is a part of this cinematic tradition of films about flamboyant Southern politicians. It’s part comedy and part melodrama and, perhaps not surprisingly, it takes place in 1950s Louisiana.
(Why isn’t that surprising? Listen, my family used to live in Louisiana. I still visit Louisiana on a fairly regularly basis. Louisiana is crazy. That’s one reason why I love it.)
Blaze is based on the true story of Gov. Earl K. Long (played here by Paul Newman). The younger brother of former Governor Huey P. Long (who himself served as the basis for the character of Willie Stark in All The King’s Men), Earl served as governor for three non-consecutive terms. He was a flamboyant populist, in the style of his older brother, the type who campaigned as one of the “common” people and who was either extremely corrupt or extremely progressive, depending on which historian you happen to be reading.
In Blaze, Earl is nearing the end of his third term. Because the state’s constitution does not allow a governor to succeed himself, Earl is currently campaigning for lieutenant governor, with the plan being that one of Earl’s allies will be elected governor and will then resign so that Earl can succeed him. While this is traditionally the sort of thing that voters in Louisiana would love, Earl is struggling because some voters are angry over his support for the civil rights movement.
Earl is also struggling because he’s just met Blaze Starr (Lolita Davidovich), a much younger stripper from West Virginia. For Earl, it’s love at first sight and soon, Blaze feels the same way. Soon, she and Earl are going across the state together. However, after Earl’s opponents arrange for him to be sent to a mental asylum, Blaze is forced to consider that she might be too big of a political liability to remain with the man she loves.
If that all sounds incredibly romanticized — well, it is. After I watched Blaze, I did a little bit research on Earl and Blaze. To say the film is fictionalized would be an understatement. (Though, interestingly enough, Earl actually was sent to a mental asylum while serving as governor.) But is that really a surprise? Would audiences rather watch a movie about a corrupt, old racist who regularly cheated on his wife or would they rather watch a romanticized love story with hissable villains and moments of crowd-pleasing comedy?
As for the film itself, it’s okay. It moves a bit too slowly for its own good and it’s never quite as enthralling as you might hope it would be, but both Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich are well-cast and have a likable chemistry. I related to the film’s version of Blaze Starr, mostly because we’re both redheads with big boobs who have a natural distrust of authority figures. If you’re into Southern politics and you’re not obsessed with historical accuracy, you might enjoy Blaze.