Whole Town’s Talking, The (1935)

“I’ll show you! A false alarm, am I?”

The_Whole_Towns_Talking_1935_poster

Synopsis:
A mild-mannered clerk (Edward G. Robinson) named Arthur Jones — who happens to look exactly like the murderous bank robber “Killer” Mannion (also Robinson) — is apprehended by police, released with an identity certificate, and commissioned to ghost-write Mannion’s memoirs for the local newspaper. Meanwhile, Mannion takes advantage of Jones by blackmailing him into sharing the identity certificate, and secretly plotting to have Jones take the fall for his crimes.

Genres:

Review:
Directed by John Ford and based on a story by W.R. Burnett (author of the novels which Little Caesar, High Sierra, and The Asphalt Jungle are based on), this clever gangster spoof makes perfect use of both Robinson’s menacing screen persona and his (mostly) untapped comedic talents. As noted in TCM’s article, Ford managed to slip this one past Production Code censors given its status as a satire, but some fairly dark elements emerge by the end (I won’t say more at risk of spoiling the fun narrative). Robinson and Arthur are both at the top of their acting games, and Ford’s direction is spot-on. Check this one out if you can! It would make a great double-bill with A Slight Case of Murder (1938), another enjoyable gangster spoof starring Robinson.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Edward G. Robinson as Arthur Jones and “Mannion”
    Whole Town's Talking Robinson1
    Whole Town's Talking Robinson2
  • Jean Arthur as Miss Clark
    Whole Town's Talking Arthur
  • Effective cinematography and “special effects”
    Whole Town's Talking Cinematography2
    Whole Town's Talking Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Robinson’s virtuoso double-performance.

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One Response to “Whole Town’s Talking, The (1935)”

  1. Must-see: for Robinson, for Ford’s unique turn at directing (a sort of screwball) comedy, and as an all-around ‘good show’.

    This is one pip of a pic, not to be missed! At just over 90 minutes, it’s the perfect length for jamming together the clever details of the marvelously constructed script by Jo Swerling and (Capra regular) Robert Riskin.

    You might almost start thinking you’re watching something directed by Howard Hawks – esp. in the film’s first half, Ford just stops short of the kind of overlapping pace that Hawks would later use for ‘His Girl Friday’ (1940).

    And it’s almost as though Ford took on this assignment as a favor to someone – in the way that Hitchcock directed ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’, the kind of project he wouldn’t normally touch, simply because Carole Lombard asked him to. Like Hitchcock, Ford acquits himself very nicely with material that seems somewhat foreign to his character. (Note how different this film is from Ford’s ‘The Informer’, made or released the same year – and, unlike ‘TWTT’, a film which more clearly has Ford’s signature on it.)

    I wish there were more films in classic cinema history that featured a leading actor playing twins (they’re certainly fun to watch). Here, Robinson joins the more distinguished company of the twins of Bette Davis (‘A Stolen Life’, ‘Dead Ringer’) and Olivia de Havilland (‘The Dark Mirror’). (Yes, subsequently a number of actors have played twins…with varying degrees of effective success; it takes more than camera tricks to make the stunt memorable.)

    If (for me) the film falters, it’s only slightly and that’s with Arthur’s character. With what she’s given, Arthur does a fine job – but I can’t help feeling the role is somewhat under-written. I don’t mean the part should have been larger (she’s a subordinate character) – but I wish her Miss Clark had more bite. She does have some particularly snappy lines, but personally I would have enjoyed the balance of her being a lot more ‘with it’ in terms of verbal energy. …Not a real problem, though.

    A very, very entertaining job well done!

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