The Whole Town's Talking - 1935

The Whole Town's Talking - Released February 22, 1935. Directed by John Ford

Edward G. Robinson plays a dual role in this film, which is a lot of fun to see. He is supposed to be an "average" man of the city named Arthur Ferguson Jones (except he's not average, he's comically shy and retiring). Meanwhile, Robinson is in the same city also portraying the tough, escaped career criminal Mannon, hunted by the police and perinially stuck in a hide-out.

The two men look identical (of course), which is the engine by which director John Ford tries to generate the comedy for this semi-screwball comedy movie (Mannon pretends to be Jones so that he can move freely around the city right under the nose of the police). It works with Robinson playing the two characters against each other (some trick photography allows them to appear together), but Ford's comedy direction gets clumsy elsewhere. Co-star Jean Arthur doesn't particularly get to contribute very much, which is odd since the actress certainly is front and center in so many other comedies from that era. She's on Ford's screen in a light and breezy way, which clashes with the Fordian atmospherics, and her character is so thinly drawn Arthur doesn't ever get to underpin "Miss Clark" the way other more experienced comedy directors like Capra, Sturges, Stevens were able to let her do.

This is an oddball comedy film which raises questions. John Ford was certainly expert at having comedy buttress his many adventure films, but in The Whole Town's Talking, aside from Robinson's work (which is the bulk of the movie), the comedy doesn't dominate the movie, instead the Fordian hint of menace keeps appearing around the edges, which gives the film an off-balance, schezophrenic quality. Other than that, Ford speeds the tale along and keeps the story clear and told in an effortless, professional way.

Complaints about the directing not withstanding, Eddie Robinson parodying his 'criminal' film personality pitted against his' mama's boy' personality is funny and interesting, and carries the whole movie. He was able to mine this dichotomy in many later films, such as Larceny Inc. and Mr. Winkle Goes to War.

Original Page May 20, 2016

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