Release Date(s)1935 (March 19, 2019)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
The Whole Town’s Talking stars Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar) as Arthur Ferguson Jones, a mousy office clerk. Co-worker Wilhemina “Bill” Clark (Jean Arthur) jokingly points out the uncanny resemblance between Jones and a photo in the newspaper of escaped convict Killer Mannion. When Jones goes to a cafe for lunch, another patron also notices the similarity and calls the police, hoping to claim the $25,000 reward.
After much to-do with the cops, they finally figure out that Jones isn’t the escaped criminal. To prevent further confusion, Jones is given an official letter stating that he is, in fact, not Mannion. But when he lets himself into his rented room, there’s Mannion waiting for him. Mannion demands that Jones let him use the “passport” at night, when he commits his crimes. Jones can hold onto it during the day. Frightened for his life, Jones agrees, and a series of episodes involving mistaken identity is set in motion.
Hollywood has used the doppelganger theme many times, with the same actor playing identical characters. It’s a challenge for the actor to provide each persona with distinctive mannerisms and personalities. Robinson establishes Jones as a competent, reliable, meek employee who is a small part of a large company. When Mannion appears, it’s the Robinson from his gangster days, with a permanent scowl and a hard stare that elicits chills. Split-screen special effects show the two men in the same frame, thus making their co-existence seem even more real. Other scenes feature over-the-shoulder shots with a stand-in as one character, back to camera, speaking to Robinson as the other. These scenes firm up the illusion.
The film has the feel of a screwball comedy and Ms. Arthur plays it that way – devil-may-care, brash, over-the-top, reckless, and wise-cracking, but the presence of Mannion imparts a darkness that’s unusual for such otherwise lighthearted movies. Director John Ford (The Quiet Man) incorporates a series of quirky antics and some amusing supporting characters, such as the fellow (Donald Meek) who’s always asking about his reward money, the prissy office manager (Etienne Girardot), and the company boss, J.G. Carpenter (Paul Harvey). But the film never achieves the giddiness of, say, Bringing Up Baby or My Favorite Wife.
The screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin mixes melodrama and silliness. The romance between Jones and Miss Clark provides dramatic balance to the Mannion plot. When Ms. Arthur is off the screen, the film bogs down and becomes more like a traditional gangster flick. Director Ford keeps the pace brisk, but it’s Robinson’s dual performance that is the solid anchor of the movie. He both embraces and contradicts his stereotypical casting as an underworld thug.
The black-and-white Unrated Blu-ray release features 1080p High Definition resolution. Aspect ratio is 1.33:1. The release is a Limited Edition of 3,000 units. Picture quality overall is very good. Blacks are rich, and gradations of grey nicely delineated. Lighting varies from the bright interior of Jones’ office to his darkened room, with Mannion sitting silent and menacing in an armchair. There are no scratches, dirt marks, or other noticeable imperfections in the print.
Audio is English 1.0 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional English subtitles are available. Dialogue is often very quick, yet always distinct and clear. The script doesn’t contain as many jokes as in other comedies of the period, but Ms. Arthur’s enthusiastic performance gets the most out of the lines she was given. For all his effectiveness as an actor playing a dual role, Robinson is not especially deft with a comic line. In fact, his Jones seems more tragic than comic.
Bonus materials include an 8-page insert booklet containing a critical essay by Julie Kirgo, still photos from the movie, and a reproduction of the film’s original poster. There is also a scroll-through of the Twilight Time catalogue, featuring Blu-ray releases from 2011 to 2019.
– Dennis Seuling