Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Talk of the Town

The Talk of the Town (George Stevens, 1942) One could almost look at The Talk of the Town as being a sequel of sorts to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, focusing on the judicial branch, rather than the legislative, and with more of a divided heart as to what kind of movie it should be.  

Part of that may be the number of screenwriters involved. Not only is Mr. Smith's scripter Sidney Buchman present, but also Irwin Shaw (both men would feel the lash of the blacklist in the 1950's) and Dale Van Every for story adaptation.  That many cooks typing away may explain the sometimes lurching tone from comedy to romance to high-mindedness to, uh, the underlying plot-line that once-in-awhile gets attended to.

The "main" interest is: who will Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur) end up with, romantically?  Stevens shot two endings and let preview audiences decide. Case closed.

It's the least material aspect to the film in the first place. The plot involves the burning of a local mill and the framing of mill worker and "activist" (one assumes a unionist) Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant) for arson and the murder of the plant foreman.  Everything is stacked against Dilg from the mill owner calling for his blood in the sympathetic press, to the trial judge being in Holmes' hip-pocket. Dilg escapes from prison (in a dramatic opening sequence that's a bit out of sync with the rest of the movie) and hides out in "Sweetbrook," the rental house run by his high-school acquaintance Nora, who's trying to get the place in shape for the impending arrival of a temporary lodger, law dean Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman) who's taking the Summer off to write a book.  This being a comedy, Lightcap arrives early—the night Dilg has stumbled his way in—and Nora has to hide the runaway in the attic, while the police comb the area looking for him.
"Hilarity ensues"
After a restless first night for all—nervous Nora has spent the night in another room and Dilg snores in his attic roost leading Lightcap to advise Nora she needs to do something about her adenoids—the complications begin: Dilg is too restless a spirit and cranky an agitator to to stay cooped in the attic; Lightcap needs a secretary and to keep Dilg under wraps and separated from Lightcap, Nora takes the job; and then, to raise the stakes, a local Senator stops by to tell Lightcap he's being nominated for the Supreme Court. So, politics being what they are (the same as always), if there's any hint of scandal, oh, like, say, harboring a wanted fugitive in your house, it could hurt the professor's chances of being one of the Supremes (depending on who's in The White House, of course).

Dilg being Dilg, he can't stay under wraps for long, and he's soon hiding in plain sight as "the gardener," and his views of the law leads to some sparring over the letter of the law and how it can conflict with the intent, especially when those intentions are not honorable to the spirit of the law, and Lightcap finds himself embroiled in a conflict of interest, where his cloistered view from his ivory tower looks pretty good in theory, but bares only a conversational similarity to its practical applications in the world of dog-eat-dog.
That's the meat of The Talk of the Town, but the screenwriters and Stevens must gild it with a "who gets the girl" story-line that will satisfy the jury of the audience. Stevens let the answer to the question be decided by a preview audience of peers—with nothing decided until the very last second. With Colman as a sophisticated book-smart professional with a lot of learning to do, and Grant as am earnest dreamer, it's hard to choose, but Arthur is, as always, a delight, finding ways to make the quick-witted Nora flustered, but with the best of intentions and the most charming of choices.  Like the movie, she's a bit of a mess, but an enjoyable one.

No comments:

Post a Comment