Punchy story [by Norman Krasna] has been masterfully guided by the skillfull direction of the Viennese Fritz Lang. It’s his first in America and represents the culmination of a year and a half of waiting, while being carried on the Metro payroll, until finally finding something to his liking. It coincides also with the debut efforts of Joseph L. Mankiewicz as a Metro producer.
Spencer Tracy gives his top performance as the upright young man until he’s involved in a kidnapping mess through mistaken identity. Escaping a necktie lynching party, the jailhouse is burned down, despite the meagre protective efforts of the constabulary, and legally he is dead. But somehow he had managed to escape and he is intent on vengeance on the 22 (including one woman who had whirled the igniting torch into the kerosened pyre at the jailhouse door), who are ultimately brought to trial.
Walter Abel, as the state attorney, virtually walks away with the proceedings during the courtroom scene. Sylvia Sidney, whose tender love scenes in the early motivations are relatively passive, rises to the proper heights in the dramatic testimony. Tracy is capital during the somewhat slowly pacing scenes up until the pseudo-lynching; then he becomes the dominating character in the scenes where he hides out and permits the trial to proceed.
1936: Nomination: Best Original Story