One of the most underrated of John Ford's early films, THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING is a marvelous gangster film told in a comic vein and sporting a superb performance from Edward G. Robinson, playing a timid clerk working for a hardware company. He has a superlative work record and has been on time every morning for eight years. He is in love with one of his...read more
One of the most underrated of John Ford's early films, THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING is a marvelous gangster film told in a comic vein and sporting a superb performance from Edward G. Robinson, playing a timid clerk working for a hardware company. He has a superlative work record and has been
on time every morning for eight years. He is in love with one of his coworkers (Jean Arthur) from afar. While he is having lunch with her one day, the police arrive and arrest him, having mistaken him for Public Enemy No. 1, Killer Mannion, recently escaped from prison and the hardware clerk's
exact double. After much confusion over his identity, the district attorney is satisfied that Robinson isn't the gangster they are looking for and issues the clerk an identity card he can show police to avoid being arrested by mistake again. Unfortunately, the news about Robinson's misadventure
hits all the newspapers--partly because Robinson's boss urges his employee to write about Mannion for the papers--and the real Killer Mannion (also played by Robinson) reads the story. When the gangster shows up at the clerk's house and demands the ID card, the fun really begins.
Adapted by screenwriters Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin from a story by W.R. Burnett (who wrote the novel Little Caesar), THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING is a masterful balance of comedy and drama with a very dark subtext. Robinson the clerk and Robinson the gangster are two sides of the same coin. The
clerk is a milquetoast who can't bring himself to tell the woman he loves how he feels about her, but once he dons the identity of the gangster and orders a man to be killed, he is suddenly infused with self-confidence and power which finally enable him to speak his mind and take action. Though
the film is essentially a comedy and Robinson the clerk's actions are well enough motivated for his character to remain sympathetic, it is an undeniably chilling and ambiguous moment. Robinson handles the role beautifully, bringing several shadings and subtleties to a double role that could easily
have disintegrated into gimmicky silliness. Because of the ambiguity and subtle handling of the darker aspects of the story, director Ford and actor Robinson turned what could have been dismissed as just another light, frivolous entertainment into an evocative work of art.
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