Review: George Stevens’ “The Talk of the Town,” Starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur

Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, and Cary Grant in
Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, and Cary Grant in "The Talk of the Town"

After George Stevens directed Cary Grant to his first Oscar nomination for Penny Serenade in 1941, the two reunited for Grant’s next film, in which the actor played a political activist falsely accused of arson and murder. Escaping from prison, Grant’s Leopold stumbles into the home of his childhood friend Nora (Jean Arthur), and convinces her to let him stay the night. More trouble shows up in the form of Michael (Ronald Colman)—a law professor to whom Nora is renting the house—who shows up a day too early. With a manhunt for the escapee going on outside, Nora, Leopold, and his lawyer Sam (Edgar Buchanan) attempt to get Michael on their side to prove Leopold’s innocence.

Made at Columbia, The Talk of the Town mixes the social commentary of Frank Capra’s Columbia pictures with the screwball antics and slapstick comedy Stevens brought to many of his films. The latter is where the film is at its strongest; the final act gets bogged down in speechifying from Leopold and Michael, at points veering towards Fritz Lang’s 1936 study of mob mentality, Fury. That extraordinary film takes a very bleak, serious look at the subject, but The Talk of the Town is less interested in delving into it. It’s the kind of film with a frivolous ending: Nora decides which man she will marry, a choice Stevens himself could not make—he shot two endings, and let the test audiences pick.1 Maybe if Stevens or writers Irwin Shaw and Sidney Buchman were more decisive, the film would feel more cohesive, and not dragged out to nearly two hours. Despite that, The Talk of the Town still remains entertaining, thanks in great deal to the talented cast and Stevens’ knack for physical comedy.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

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For More on The Talk of the Town

Read the review in The New York Times

References   [ + ]

1. Marilyn Ann Moss, Giant: George Stevens, a Life on Film (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2015), 96.