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The Talk of the Town (June 3, 2008)

The Talk of the Town (1942), was directed by George Stevens for Columbia, and was filmed from January through April, 1942. This is a comedy drama. It has a serious, even a dark story – a man is unjustly accused of a crime – but the acting and situations lend themselves to comedy and comedy is occasionally let loose.

While researching what to tell you about this movie, I found some comments by an Australian gentleman named Billy Stevenson on his blog afilmcanon.com. They seemed on the mark, so I thought I’d hand them on. The press does not play a heroic role in The Talk of the Town. It is aligned with political corruption, it incites lynch mobs. The press is not a crusader for reform, as it was portrayed in His Girl Friday, or some of the Capra movies, like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Mr. Stevenson says that Capra presents the courtroom as a conversation-space, for instance as in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, while George Stevens in this picture presents it as a sacred space, to be defended against the masses, rather than overtaken by them.

For Mr. Stevenson the center of the film seems to be the discussions of law between the accused man played by Cary Grant, who speaks for the pragmatic spirit of justice, and the law professor played by Ronald Colman, who speaks for the philosophical letter of the law. He calls their conversations “an extrapolation of eighteenth century politeness” that wouldn’t be out of place in the Age of Enlightenment itself.

For me the most memorable moments are related to food – the scene where the hungry Grant smells the bacon and eggs Jean Arthur is frying for Colman’s breakfast, and the “borscht with an egg beaten up in it” that turns out to be a pivot in the plot.

The movie was nominated for a whole raft of Oscars: best picture, best writing Oscar for both original story and screenplay, best interior decoration black-and-white, best cinematography black-and-white, best editing, best music scoring. It did not win in any category. However, a comedy-drama that explored the nature of law and justice as America set off to fight for those values in World War II still tells us something about that country and how it saw itself then sixty-some years later, and I hope you enjoy it this evening.