Monday, October 12, 2015

Talk of the Town, The (1942)

Director: George Stevens

It is a love triangle that mixes intellect, long time friendships, the questioning of what is right, and a fugitive from the law. A partial romantic comedy, partial crime drama The Talk of the Town is a movie that plays along the lines of being serious as well as silly. Starring a trio of notable actors the film portrays a finely constructed script where the suspense and mystery of the plot contrasts the lightheartedness of the characters’ relationships with one another.

The Talk of the Town is a comedic drama of fugitive political activist and an illustrious mind in the world of law both vying for the affection of a strong-willed woman that binds the two together. Nora (Jean Arthur) attempts to hide an old friend and political activist Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant) who recently escaped prison during the middle of his trial within the house she began renting to a distinguished law professor Michael Lightcap (Ronald Coleman). After first passing Dilg off as the premises’ gardener to Lightcap the two men become fond of each other’s intellect, while at the same time each begins budding relationship with Nora, creating an unspoken rivalry simultaneously between the two men. When Dilg’s true identity is revealed to the professor Lightcap’s first reaction is to fulfill the duty of the law by turning in Dilg in. However, suspicions allows Lightcap to dig in deeper to discover Dilg is actually being framed. The three work together to prove the innocence of Dilg, where soon after Lightcap is appointed to the Supreme Court and Dilg is a free man.  Shelly is torn between these two men romantically, but ultimately decides on the more whimsical Dilg despite her feelings for Lightcap as well.

The feature is an enjoyable intelligible battle over what is the right thing to do when one feels injustice is being served, but also feels that fallowing the law hinders discovering the truth. The lighthearted comedy aspects derive from the jealous romantic battle of Dilg wanting to build his interest with Nora while she is finding interest in Lightcap. Despite all these amusing aspects of the picture, the film does struggle with balance as the drama of the plot appears to be interrupted intermittently with silly comedic points of an overly playful romantic comedy.

Director George Stevens with The Talk of the Town was in the middle picture of a three film deal he had with Columbia, all of which were of a romantic comedy variety, before he joined the U.S. Army in 1943. It reunited Cary Grant with Jean Arthur for their second feature together, the first being the 1939 Howard hawks drama Only Angles Have Wings. Their co-star was be Ronald Coleman who would take less than top billing for the first time since the days of silent pictures. All three give serious performances with moments of silly comedy, these moments being zany double takes or subtle looks of bewilderment more associated with screwy B-comedies than an A-list drama. Despite these moments being very few and far in-between they do stand out quite a bit for such a serious picture.

Of the supporting cast we observe a brief appearance of a very young Lloyd Bridges in an uncredited role as a reporter. 1942 was a very busy year for Bridges as he filled his résumé with twenty different motion picture performances during that particular year.

Also featured are the performances of Edgar Buchanan and Rex Ingram in minor roles. Buchanan, whose more popular roles would be from him later television career, plays the sympathetic lawyer of Dilg who feels bad for his friend and client who appears to have no hope, but does everything to help his fugitive client. Ingram being one of the more respected and successful African American actors of this era of mainstream motion pictures is featured as the valet of Professor Lightcap. What makes Ingram’s appearance so noteworthy as Tilney is that he is treated as an equal for whom Lightcap respects academically beyond his services. This non-stereotyped black character stands out in an age when mainstream Hollywood used African American characters a servants or comic relief, giving Ingram’s character a bit more respect than what was common at a time of social injustice.

The Talk of the Town was a critical and financial success. The actors were praised for performances, but that was not without some critic pointing out the awkward changes in the style from melodramatic to screwball comedy and back so quickly throughout the feature. In any case critics must have liked the picture enough for the film to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Story that year, along with a nomination for Best Picture.

The picture is a finely produced film with three wonderful stars. Grant is a lovely leading man that keeps you guessing the entire time if he is innocent or guilty while being overall likable. Jean Arthur plays well the woman in the middle that wants what is best for both men and juggles what she wants with what is right. Coleman is the intellectual that is likable, but can be the person that almost ruins everything for Dilg until his sympathy for his new friend leads him to discover his innocence. All together they are a charming assemblage of a stars in a film that is delight to watch.

To call The Talk of the Town one of the best features of the year might be a stretch, but with the Academy Awards category clogged with nine nominated features then perhaps yes it could be considered for this prize. The film is an entertaining feature with moments of suspense that has the makings of what allows motion pictures to be so simply enjoyable, and this is definitively one of the more pleasurable movies of the year 1942.

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