Saturday, December 16, 2017

They made All the King's Men a comedy

The latest movie I watched off my DVR since it's available from the Warner Archive is A Lion in the Streets.

The movie starts off with a bunch of kids going to a rural one-room schoolhouse somewhere in the South in a pouring rain, being helped to the school by Verity Wade (Barbara Hale). Arriving just before the start of classes is peddler Harley Martin (James Cagney). He sees Verity and immediately falls in love with her, and by the start of the second reel, the two are married. Hank presents Verity first to his rich friend Jules (Warner Anderson), from whose books Hank has been studying law. Then it's time for a wedding party with all the sharecroppers.

At this point, the sharecroppers inform Verity that the local bigwig, Castleberry (Larry Keating) has been cheating them out of money for their cotton for years, by using weights that short the farmers on how much cotton they've produced. Hank has gotten to the point where he thinks he can prove it, and is willing to risk a criminal libel prosecution to do it. This eventually makes Hank a hero with the poor folk, and hurtles him into a career in politics.

Hank is a populist much in the mold of Broderick Crawford's character in All the King's Men, one who probably meant well at first but ultimately gets consumed by the drive for power, to the point that he cares more about himself and the election than about anybody else. He uses one of the farmers who gets caught up in a murder charge over the weight check, and then uses the guy's body when the guy gets shot just before the murder trial. But power ultimately means a pact with the devil who is a much more experienced operator than Hank (Onslow Stevens, a relic from the 30s).

The movie is a good idea, but the whole thing seems faintly ridiculous, starting with poor James Cagney. He's trying to put on a Southern accent, and he's thoroughly unsuited to it. The movie looks like it's being done on a backlot which makes much of it look thoroughly unrealistic, and the plot careens wildly out of control. I found myself laughing throughout, and that wasn't a good thing.

Still, you should probably judge for yourself. And you might find it interesting even if you don't find it very good.

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