|Barbara Hale and James Cagney|
In the Louisiana backwoods, Hank Martin (James Cagney) drives his truck around selling all manner of goods to his neighbors. He meets and marries schoolteacher Verity (Barbara Hale) and takes her to his shack -- but he doesn't intend to stay there for long. Hank is convinced that Robert Castleberry (Larry Keating) is short-weighting the cotton brought to his plant and cheating the farmers, a charge strongly denied by Castleberry, creating an incident that leads to more than one death. Then Hank gets it into his head to run for governor, and makes a deal with the devil. Meanwhile his pregnant wife is unaware that Hank has turned the young woman with a crush on him, Flamingo (Anne Francis), into his mistress. This will not end well. In fact, the ending to the movie is the best thing about the picture (literally and figuratively) and perhaps Cagney's only really good acting in the film. It almost seems as if Cagney thinks that if he hollers, blusters and rages enough it will make the audience forget how utterly unconvincing the film is as a whole. A rage that might be appropriate for a gangster doesn't work at all for Hank Martin, and it's one of Cagney's rare forgettable performances. On the other hand, Barbara Hale [Perry Mason] is lovely and convincing as Verity, and Anne Francis also shines as Flamingo, and there are notable turns from Keating [When Worlds Collide]; John McIntire [Shadow on the Wall] as Jeb; and Warner Anderson as Jules. Also in the cast are Cagney's sister, Jeanne, as Jeb's wife; Lon Chaney Jr.; Ellen Corby; Onslow Stevens as a lawyer; and Sara Haden, although I didn't spot her and she seems to have no lines. The wildest scene in the movie has Flamingo trying to feed Verity to a pack of alligators out of jealousy! Franz Waxman's discordant score seems to fit, but can't help, this oddball and unmemorable movie. Apparently Walsh cut out the last third of Luthor Davis' screenplay and came up with a new finale. You also sense that several scenes, especially those pertaining to the relationship between Hank and Flamingo, were left on the cutting room floor. Similar material was already covered in the 1949 All the King's Men.
Verdict: Cagney, shamelessly chewing the scenery, is almost a parody of himself in this. **.