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).