In 1945, James Cagney, through his independent production company, bought the rights to a lurid novel by Adria Locke Langley, concerning the rise of a Southern demagogue, loosely based on the political career of Huey Long. By the time the film finally went into production and was released in 1953, the film became an also-ran, trailing behind Robert Rossen's Oscar-winning production All the King's Men, which concerned the same subject. The film, directed by Raoul Walsh, never escapes from the towering shadows of the Rossen film, so it becomes, in the end, a matter of preference for the lead character -- whether one prefers the looming intimidation of Broderick Crawford or the brisk pugnacity of James Cagney. Cagney plays swamp peddler Hank Martin, who tries to ride into the governor's mansion in a backroad Southern state by making a crusade out of the plight of the poor and impoverished majority of the state. He begins his political assent by leading a sharecropper's revolt against the rip-offs the sharecroppers are receiving at the local cotton mill. But things become more intense and Hank Martin sows the seeds of his own destruction when he makes a deal with a local, crooked political boss in order to get ahead in his political career.