The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)

Arthur Ferguson Jones is an ordinary man. He works hard at his job, is never late for work, and in his free time likes to write. He leads a pretty average life.

(Image via iphotoscrap)
(Image via iphotoscrap)

One day, a major change comes to Jones’ life. He oversleeps for once, and the big boss has instructed his manager to fire the next person who is late, so Jones loses his job. Then he’s arrested after being mistaken for a killer named Mannion who bears a striking resemblance to him.

Realizing their mistake, the police give Jones a document to show if other officers make the same mistake and try to arrest him… but this causes Mannion to come after his doppelganger, to steal the note and continue roaming free.

Edward G. Robinson takes on a dual role as both Jones and Mannion in 1935’s The Whole Town’s Talking. Based on a story by W.R. Burnett, the film was written by Robert Riskin and Jo Swerling and directed by John Ford. Co-starring alongside Robinson is Jean Arthur as Jones’ fast-talking co-worker, Miss Clark.

A phenomenal performance is given by Edward G. Robinson in his dual role. I was already a fan of Robinson from his gangster flicks, but this film made me love him even more. Jones and Mannion are complete opposites, and Robinson is completely convincing in both characters.

The character of Jones is an adorable man. He talks to his pets and starts his morning by doing stretching exercises at his window. Robinson pulls off this “sweet and innocent” persona surprisingly well, making it easy for the audience to feel for Jones when he’s arrested.

(Image via mentorscamper.blogspot)
(Image via mentorscamper.blogspot)

On the flip side, Robinson easily reverts to the tough-guy persona we’re used to seeing him in when he takes on the character of Mannion.

The scenes Robinson shares with himself are some of the film’s best. They pop up quite frequently, taking up a good chunk of the film’s running time and adding greatly to its overall appeal.

(Image via via-51.blogspot)
(Image via via-51.blogspot)

Jean Arthur also gives a great performance here as spunky Miss Clark. Arthur’s sass, wit and charm make her the perfect fit for the role.

The Whole Town’s Talking utilizes some of the photographic trademarks of the “gangster” genre. Shots of newspaper headlines and some extra-shadowy lighting are used, allowing for a successful spoof of the genre.

Though this is a comedy, there’s also a fair bit of intrigue to it, and it isn’t easy for the viewer to predict how the whole mistaken-identity mess will be resolved. Its more serious moments are usually made funny by little details, like Robinson wearing a terrible stick-on mustache.

The ending of the film creeps up on the viewer a bit abruptly, but it’s a very clever film overall, and a really enjoyable watch. I’d recommend this one highly, especially for fans of Robinson. The score: 4.5/5

12 thoughts on “The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)

  1. As I was reading your review, I’d just assumed this was a crime thriller, but suddenly you mentioned it was a comedy, and I was thrown for a loop. In my eyes, this would’ve made for a great mystery-suspense movie…I can’t imagine it being a comedy! Nice review Lindsey, but if you could do me a favor, please try not to dupe me in future reviews!

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    1. What am I without my uncanny ability to mislead TMP’s readers, though?

      It would have made a great mystery, but it works surprisingly well as a comedy, too. Nice to see Edward G. Robinson having fun and spoofing the genre he’s most famous for.

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      1. That’s what I liked so much about ‘One, Two, Three’…seeing tough-guy James Cagney do comedy, and do it so well.

        Wait…I’m not the only loyal TMP follower to complain about your deceitful nature?

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  2. This is one of my fave films and one of my fave Edward G. Robinson performances. He is SO GOOD in this film, and so believable as meek Ferguson and the fierce Mannion.

    I’m very glad you featured this movie. It deserves more attention.

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  3. Nice write-up, Lindsey! I, too, fell in love with this one when I caught it on TCM a couple of years back. It’s a great tribute to Robinson’s versatility as an actor and it is indeed one of his most “adorable” roles (a shout out to his patriarch in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, though).

    I’m stunned that Ford made this! Comedy crept its way into many of his films (it’s often the worst part of his more serious outings–I’m looking at you, The Searchers), and he did experiment more with genre than more people give him credit for… but, still! You would’ve thought that this was Capra or something!

    I’d definitely recommend the John Ford at Columbia box set that this is a part of. This is certainly the highlight, but the two others that I’ve seen–The Long Gray Line and Gideon of Scotland Yard–are very good (the latter being another uncharacteristically light-hearted work).

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    1. I want that set in my collection so badly. My goal right now is to finish collecting all of Cary Grant’s available films, so it’ll have to wait until that’s done (unless I come across it at a great price and can’t resist!).

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  4. I’m another fan of this film – it amazes me how different Robinson manages to be in his two roles, and yet how completely convincing in both of them. And Jean Arthur has a lot of fun with her part too. Great review, Lindsey.

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed my review! I’ve always been impressed with Robinson’s work, but seeing him handle these completely opposite roles so convincingly really cemented him as a favorite of mine. What a talent.

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