Lion in Streets, A (1953: Raoul Walsh’s Political Drama, Starring James Cagney as Corrupt Southern Politician (Modeled on Huey Long, All the King’s Men)

Raoul Walsh directed A Lion in Streets, a powerful drama, starring James Cagney as a southern politician loosely based on Huey Long.

A Lion Is in the Streets
A Lion Is in the Streets.jpg

Cagney’s brother William was the producer, while his younger sister Jeanne was also in the cast.

The screenplay was based on a 1945 book by Adria Locke Langley.

Obviously, the film bears similarities to the 1949 Oscar winning film, All the King’s Men.

Cagney is well cast as charismatic roving peddler Hank Martin, who falls in love with schoolteacher Verity Wade (Barbara Hale) and soon marries her.

On their wedding day, he rents ramshackle home from upper- class lawyer friend Jules Bolduc (Warner Anderson). Hank rounds up his friends to fix up the place, but Verity begins to realize he is not as nice as he appears to be. He later confides to her that, indeed, it’s all a matter of manipulating people.

Jules invites the couple to dinner, where Hank quarrels with Robert L. Castleberry IV (Larry Keating). He accuses Castleberry, owner of company that buys cotton, of shortchanging the poor farmers.

Verity accompanies Hank to the bayou. A young woman named Flamingo (Anne Francis) leaps into his arms, but when she learns that he is married, she tries to arrange for alligator to rid her rival.

Verity is only injured. However, Flamingo does not give up on the man she has loved. After Hank sends Verity home to recover, Flamingo tracks Hank down on the road, and, overcoming his resistance, they start an affair.

Hank sets out to prove that Castleberry is cheating. When Hank proves that the weights are inaccurate, Castleberry’s men aim a rifle at Hank’s followers, and he is killed by farmer Jeb Brown (John McIntyre).

To avoid inflammatory publicity, Castleberry arranges for Brown’s murder trial to be repeatedly postponed. Shadowy power broker Guy Polli (Onslow Stevens) offers to use his influence to get the case heard in return for Hank’s “thanks.”

When Castleberry manager Samuel T. Beach (James Millican) fatally shoots the prisoner, Hank persuades the dying man to go to court. Brown expires, Hank has enough time to persuade the jury to declare him innocent posthumously before the judge can adjourn.

The resulting publicity forces Castleberry to sell his company to Polli (though his managers were the ones behind the fraud), enabling Hank to run for governor. However, major rainstorm the day before the election prevents Hank’s rural supporters from voting.

In desperation, he goes to see Polli, who offers the votes of the city precincts he controls. But, in return, he insists Hank sign an affidavit stating that Beach was with him when Brown was shot. Since the company Polli has bought would be destroyed if Beach were convicted, Hank reluctantly agrees.

Each candidate wins the same number of counties, and the state assembly to break the tie is controlled by the incumbent. Rather than try again, Hank urges his supporters to march on the capital as armed mob.

Jules then states that he has proof that Beach is Brown’s murderer, and that Hank knowingly signed false affidavit to get Polli’s support.

When Verity confirms Hank was actually with her at the time of the killing, Brown’s widow shoots Hank. As Hank is dying, he tells his wife that his supporters were smarter than he thought.

Recycling: Radio adaptation

A Lion Is in the Streets was presented on Grand Central Station March 16, 1946, with Jeanne Cagney.


James Cagney as Hank Martin
Barbara Hale as Verity Wade Martin
Anne Francis as Flamingo McManamee
Warner Anderson as Jules Bolduc
John McIntire as Jeb Brown
Jeanne Cagney as Jennie Brown
Lon Chaney, Jr. as Spurge McManamee, Flamingo’s father
Frank McHugh as Frank Rector, Castleberry worker, murder accomplice
Larry Keating as Robert L. Castleberry IV
Onslow Stevens as Guy Polli
James Millican as Samuel T. Beach
Mickey Simpson as Tim Beck, blacksmith and Hank’s supporter
Sara Haden as Lula May McManamee, Flamingo’s mother
Ellen Corby as Singing Woman


Directed by Raoul Walsh
Screenplay by Luther Davis, bBased on A Lion Is in the Streets
1945 novel by Adria Locke Langley
Produced by William Cagney
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Edited by George Amy
Music by Franz Waxman
Color process Technicolor
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: September 23, 1953

Running time: 88 minutes