Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Whole Town's Talking

TCM is playing the rarely-aired gem The Whole Town's Talking at 10:00 AM ET on January 25. I believe it hasn't aired since Jean Arthur was TCM's Star of the Month back in January 2007; and, as it's not available on DVD, this may be one of your few chances to catch a really fun little movie.

Edward G. Robinson stars as Arthur Jones, a clerk working in an office who simply tries to go through life as quietly as possible, never making waves. Everything changes for him, though, when notorious gangster "Killer" Mannion escapes from prison and shows up in his peaceful little town. This gangster looks amazingly like Jones (not a surprise, since it's Robinson playing a dual role), to the point that Jones gets arrested. After a lot of explanation, the police finally do believe that Jones is not the same person as Mannion, and give him an affidavit certifying this fact, which will allow him to go about his life. Unfortunately for him, Mannion finds this out, and forces Jones to let him use the affidavit at night. As a result, the only way that Jones is going to be able to resolve the dilemma is through his own ingenuity....

Actually, he gets a bit of encouragement in the form of the aforementioned Jean Arthur. Arthur plays Wilhelmina "Bill" Clark, one of Jones' coworkers at the office; she takes some pity on him, and eventually falls in love with him along the way.

Robinson is quite good as always. He had been stereotyped as the quintessential gangster by the time this movie was made in 1935, so it's natural to see him playing such a role here. However, he also gets to broaden his acting chops by playing Jones, who is almost diametrically opposed to Mannion. Robinson pulls it off effectively and effortlessly, and is quite satisfying to watch. As for Arthur, it feels almost as though she's playing the sort of character she would later play in The Devil and Miss Jones, that of a working girl who feels bad for her coworker. She's good, too. Both actors are helped in no small part by a script courtesy of Frank Capra's screenwriter, Robert Riskin (indeed, the movie has a lot of the Capra feel to it), along with direction not by Capra, but by John Ford.

The Whole Town's Talking was made at Columbia, which might have something to do with its reputation (or lack thereof) today. Columbia were a good ways down the studio pecking order in the 1930s, and having to do a film there was often seen as a step down. (Indeed, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert were punished by their home studios and forced to go to Columbia to make what would become It Happened One Night.) In more recent times, Ted Turner got the rights to the MGM library in 1986, and later merged it with the rights to Warner Brothers and RKO movies, which became the backbone of the library of movies shown on TCM when it launched in 1994. None of this should take anything away from The Whole Town's Talking, however. It's quite a good movie, and one that everybody can enjoy.

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