blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Whole Town’s Talking (1935, John Ford)

Jean Arthur and Edward G. Robinson star in THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING, directed by John Ford for Columbia Pictures.

The Whole Town’s Talking has some peculiar third act problems, but it also has this extraordinary first act set over three scenes and twenty-some minutes, which evens things out.

Some of the problem might stem from Town’s plot–mild-mannered office clerk Edward G. Robinson just happens to look like a famous gangster and is falsely arrested. The actual gangster shows up and Robinson gets to act off Robinson. The second half of the picture is often just Robinson. He can carry it–and cinematographer Joseph H. August excels at the process photography (though not the projection shots)–it’s just odd.

Also, the gangster doesn’t come into the film until the second act; he’s not a predicted permanent fixture. Not like Jean Arthur, the omnipresent love interest whose vanishes signals the awkward finish. She and Robinson are great together; director Ford introduces most of the main cast quickly and then uses repetition to establish them. No one has a deep back story but they’re all fully drawn.

As for Ford’s directing of a gangster spoof–he does really well with the actors. Robinson, Arthur, Arthur Byron, Donald Meek–Edward Brophy is good in a small part. Ford does okay with the backlot shooting, but he’s a little unsure with the mellow scenes. Lots of people standing.

Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin’s script is strong, though they do forget a joke.

The finale also redeems itself with Ford letting Robinson eschew the comedy for moral complexity.

Town’s unique and good.



Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin, based on a story by W.R. Burnett; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Viola Lawrence; produced by Ford and Lester Cowan; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Edward G. Robinson (Arthur Ferguson Jones), Jean Arthur (Miss Clark), Arthur Hohl (Detective Sergeant Boyle), James Donlan (Detective Sergeant Howe), Arthur Byron (Spencer), Wallace Ford (Healy), Donald Meek (Hoyt), Etienne Girardot (Seaver), Edward Brophy (‘Slugs’ Martin) and Paul Harvey (‘J.G.’ Carpenter).




7 responses to “The Whole Town’s Talking (1935, John Ford)”

  1. When Ford tries to do out-and-out comedy (as opposed to mixing it in with whatever genre he’s doing), I’m not always a fan of the results (I hate UP THE RIVER, despite the presence of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart), but I like this one a lot. I don’t mind the late appearance of Robinson’s gangster character, because I think that persona is always in the back of our minds. I do agree the ending is a little awkward, but I enjoy this movie a lot. Nice write-up.

    1. Thanks, Sean.

      I haven’t seen UP THE RIVER. There’s just so much Ford to go through….

  2. Despite its shortcomings, I adore this film. I love Edward G. Robinson in the dual role – he is utterly convincing as the meek clerk and the ruthless gangster.

  3. For some reason, this movie is a favourite of my autistic/developmentally delayed son so every once in a while he puts it on a replay loop. I think Etienne Girardot steals the darn thing!

  4. Ohh must watch this. As much as I love Ford, it just seems like there’s too much to get through!

  5. What I love about John Ford is that he may be known mainly for his westerns, but he did almost every genre of film, and succeeded. Of course, with Edword G. Robinson and Jean Arthur, the success was almost certain.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

  6. Need to see this one-admire Robinson’s work. Thanks for writing about it!

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