DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A LION IS IN THE STREETS (director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriter: from the novel by Andria Locke Langley/Luther Davis; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: George Amy; music: Franz Waxman; cast: James Cagney (Hank Martin), Barbara Hale (Verity Wade), Anne Francis (Flamingo McManamee), Warner Anderson (Jules Bolduc), John McIntire (Jeb Brown), Jeanne Cagney (Jennie Brown), Frank McHugh (Frank Rector), Larry Keating  (Robert L. Castleberry IV), Onslow Stevens (Guy Polli), James Millican (Samuel T. Beach), Lon Chaney (Spurge McManamee); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Cagney; Warner Brothers; 1953)

 
"Pure Hollywood balderdash."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Energetic melodrama based on Huey Long (1930s Louisiana governor) but altered after Long's estate threatened to sue. The title refers to Julius Caesar's fate. The Cagney family is involved in the production with James' brother William as the producer, sister Jeanne in a supporting role, and James in the starring role as the Huey Long-like character named Hank Martin. The Cagney production team bought the rights to the novel by Adria Locke Langley, but were delayed in filming because of the law suit threat and the rewriting of the script to prevent such a suit. As a result they lost out to Robert Rossen's All The King's Men, which took an Oscar for its film using the same subject. Raoul Walsh directs getting all he can muster out of his protagonist being the pugnacious populist Southern demagogue who has a way of attracting the hicks in the sticks.

Hank Martin is a peddler of junk items in the backwoods of an unnamed Southern state where he meets and marries the sweet Verity Wade (Barbara Hale), an elementary schoolteacher. Politically ambitious, Hank gets the impoverished cotton farmers on his side by saying the wealthy cotton gin owner Robert L. Castleberry IV (Larry Keating) has been using "false weights" to cheat them. Charged with libel, the self-taught Martin avoids court by resorting to lawyer trickery. During a demonstration to show the crooked scales, the deputy sheriff Wilbur Lewis (William 'Bill' Phillips) gets shot by Jeb Brown (John McIntire) before he can shoot one of the demonstrators. Martin is told by Castleberry's rival gin owner and city political boss Guy Polli (Onslow Stevens) that he doesn't want it to go to trial because it would publicize the cheating. But the influential shady businessman, Guy, gets the trial through his political connections and forms a secret partnership with the overly ambitious swamp peddler. 

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

It turns out the real crooks are those working for Castleberry, Frank Rector (Frank McHugh) and Sam Beach (James Millican). They shoot Jeb just before the trial, but while he's still alive Martin convinces the critically injured Jeb to go to trial. Jeb dies during the proceedings but Martin forces the jury to say Jeb's innocent of murdering the deputy and gets the reporters to write about the crooked scales. The bad publicity forces Castleberry to sell to Guy, who immediately has Beach and Rector on his payroll. Hank has all the rednecks behind him and runs for governor on a crusade to help the poor. But on the day of the election there's a heavy rain, which means his voters living in the rural parts of the state where the roads are unpaved can't get out to vote. Guy makes a deal with Martin to get him the city vote and has Martin sign an affidavit he was with Beach at the time Jeb was murdered. But before the dead even election is settled Jules Bolduc (Warner Anderson), Castleberry's godson and lawyer, offers proof it was Beach and Rector cheating the farmers and his innocent godfather; furthermore the law has recovered the weapon that killed Jeb and traced it to Beach and a witness places both Beach and Rector at the scene of the crime. Martin's lie is exposed by his wife Verity and in disgust Jeb's widow Jenny (Jeanne Cagney) kills Martin, declaring Martin sold out the people.

It's pure Hollywood balderdash. The melodramatics stretch the huckster's instant rise as a shiny new political star to the point of being ridiculous. But the manic performance by Cagney keeps things hopping at all times and allows the film to be somewhat appealing. Anne Francis is also alluring as the 'swamp siren' who is Cagney's mistress.

REVIEWED ON 2/17/2006        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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