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TALK OF THE TOWN, THE (director: George Stevens; screenwriters: story by Sidney Harmon/Sidney Buchman/Dale Van Every/Irwin Shaw; cinematographer: Ted Tetzlaff; editor: Otto Meyer; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: Cary Grant (Leopold Dilg), Jean Arthur (Nora Shelley), Ronald Colman (Michael Lightcap), Edgar Buchanan (Sam Yates), Glenda Farrell (Regina Bush), Charles Dingle (Andrew Holmes), Rex Ingram (Tilney), Tom Tyler (Clyde Bracken), Don Beddoe (Chief of Police), Leonid Kinskey (Jan Pulaski), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Shelley), Clyde Filmore (Senator James Boyd), George Watts (Judge Grunstadt); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Stevens; Columbia Pictures; 1942)
“The acting by Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and Ronald Colman is top-notch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An effective serio-comic venture (a mixture of screwball comedy and political moralizing about civil liberties) that only falters when it becomes too contrived in its heavy-handed political lessons and has an absurd lynch mob scene, played for laughs, at the end that didn’t work for me. The acting by Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and Ronald Colman is top-notch. George Stevens (“Giant”/”Shane”/”The Diary of Anne Frank”) is Capra-esque in making this a populist feel-good film, a film the public loved and made a box office smash. The writers Sidney Harmon, Sidney Buchman (later blacklisted and forced into exile in the 1950s), Dale Van Every and Irwin Shaw keep it smart and witty for the most part, but if the stars weren’t so delightfully mugging it up it would have never turned out so good.

The New England town of Lochester sees the mill owned by Andrew Holmes (Charles Dingle) destroyed one night by fire and the foreman Clyde Bracken (Tom Tyler) supposedly killed. Holmes accuses street soap box political activist and local rabble-rouser Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant) of arson and without evidence has him in prison charged with murder. With Holmes’ hand-picked corrupt Judge Grunstadt on the bench and the media playing into Holmes’ hands by rousing its readers against Dilg, he decides to escape before the rigged trial is over. Dilg convinces his childhood friend, the local high school teacher, Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur), to let him hide in her isolated country house. Complications arise when Nora’s boarder for the summer, the renown dean of a Boston law school, the 40-year-old bearded Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman), using his vacation time to write a book, arrives the night before he’s supposed to. When Dilg can’t hide anymore, he poses as the gardener and arouses the stuffy Lightcap’s curiosity with his practical ideas about the law opposed to the professor’s aloof take on the law. Dilg’s court-appointed attorney, Sam Yates (Edgar Buchanan), knows that the innocent Dilg was framed but can’t get the idealistic but cold-hearted law professor interested in the case. The professor learns from a visit by a senator, that he’s been chosen by the President to be in line for a Supreme Court appointment in the fall. He’s also told he’ll be investigated by the senate and should avoid unfavorable publicity.

The three fighters for justice plan to thaw the professor out and win him over to take on the case of this injustice, with the bouncy and attractive Nora used as the lure. The catch is that as soon as the professor starts thawing out, Nora falls for both men and it isn’t until the end that we learn who she chooses (it was filmed with two endings).

Despite its awkward switch from comedy to serious melodrama, the flighty film is grounded in the likability and good energy from the three stars.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”