Although some feel that A Lion is in the Streets would have been better received had it not followed then earlier All the King's Men, which was also based upon the career of Huey Long, the fact is that Lion simply isn't as good as Men. The crucial difference is the screenplay; Lion's simply isn't particularly good, veering off into lurid melodrama on many occasions, stretching credibility in others, and failing to create any real, viable characters for the leading role to play off of. Fortunately, Lion does have a magnetic star turn from the irresistible James Cagney. The actor clearly relishes the part, taking hold of the screen from the moment he enters and never missing an opportunity to get under the skin of this grotesque but fascinating creature. True, it's not a flawless performance: his accent comes and goes (sometimes several times within one sentence), and at times Cagney goes a bit too far. But he gives Lion a much needed anchor and makes it hard to look away while he is on screen. As noted, the other actors have less to work with, but Anne Francis is strangely appealing as the swamp slut, and Barbara Hale does the best she can with the thankless role of the wife. Raoul Walsh pulls some nice directorial tricks, including almost making the infamous "dead man trial" work; he can't totally mask the screenplay's flaws, but he does make it look much better than it should. And he could have probably done even better, had the movie been shot in black-and-white, rather than in color, which adds to the lurid nature of the tale.
by Craig Butler review