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USA 1942
Directed by
George Stevens
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

The Talk Of The Town

Gary Grant as a bad guy!? Well so The Talk of the Town leads you to believe, at least for the duration of its opening montage. Then Grant speaks and you know that you’re on safe ground.

Grant plays Leopold Dilg a labour activist who has been framed for arson and murder. He manages to escape from prison and heads for a house belonging to Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur), a friend from school days.  Nora believes in Dilg's innocence so when her tenant Professor Lightcap (Ronald Colman), a legal expert, turns up she pretends that Dilg is the gardener. Meanwhile the police are hot on Dilg’s tracks

Were it not for Jean Arthur’s perky performance George Stevens’ film would be a total dud.  A late entry in the comedy-with-a-message sub-genre best defined by Frank Capra’s Mr Deeds Goes To Town (1936) and Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) it is a didactic and singularly unfunny film with Grant mis-cast as a blue-collar worker (Jimmy Stewart who had played Mr Smith would have been better suited) and Ronald Colman nigh on insufferable as a pompous academic. Which is not to say that Colman is bad, but that his character is so smugly self-satisfied as to persistently annoy (he is such a paragon of virtue that in a crucial plot point during the story he is nominated for the Supreme Court)   

If the point of the film is to endorse Justice over The Law by having Lightcap side with Dilg over the substance rather than the letter (Dilg acknowledges his point of view but only when the real culprit is identified), thus reassuring us of the humanity of the Supreme Court (although you’d have to say that the Professor's  flouting the law to do so is implausible, to say the least), more presumptively the film has no issue with Nora eagerly waiting hand and foot on both the Professor and Dilg.

Still, this was the 1940s when the Established Order was still a given and the film was not only a box office hit but received seven Oscar nominations none of which, deservedly, it won. Which leaves you with Arthur, an actress whose career began in the silent era and was winding down (at its peak she starred in both Mr Smith and Mr Deeds) with an appearance in only one more film of note, Stevens’ 1953 Western,Shane.  Her performance here gives us at least one reason to watch what is otherwise a tiresomely contrived and overlong film. 

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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