For Your Information: Star Ratings Out Of Five (★★★★★) Stars

Friday, February 8, 2013

Classic Review

The Whole Town's Talking (1935): Dir. John Ford 

For anyone unfamiliar with screen legend Edward G. Robinson, John Ford’s 1935 comedy The Whole Town’s Talking is a good place to start getting familiar.  While hardly a definitive Ford picture—it actually more closely resembles the work of Hawks or Lubitsch—this gangland comedy-of-errors highlights its star’s unparalleled talent.  Robinson plays Arthur Ferguson Jones, a humble, soft-spoken office clerk (with an exemplary attendance record) who unfortunately provides a doppelganger for public enemy Killer Mannion.   In both roles, Robinson shines, playing the former as a hapless gentleman and the latter as a clone of Little Caesar, complete with grimace and “Listen here, see” cadence.  When the cops arrest the wrong man, Jones must first prove his innocence, and then later, wiggle out from under the gun-smoked thumb of the actual hood, who begins using their interchangeable mugs to commit undetected nocturnal transgressions.  A Shakespearean comedy of mistaken identity, mixed with the didacticism of social problem pictures, and tossed in a batter of Hawksian sexual politics (the whip-smart Jean Arthur plays Jones’ motor-mouthed girl-Friday), The Whole Town’s Talking features Hollywood’s sharpest genre artisans at their most witty and intricate.  But more than anything, it’s a pedestal for Robinson to showcase his range as a performer.  Other than perhaps his contemporary James Cagney, no actor living or dead could recreate the fine-tooth duality of Robinson’s performance.  He’s playing two characters, sure, but he’s also playing two sides of the human psyche—Jekyll and Hyde reinvented for the age of bookkeepers and bootleggers.

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