The Talk of the Town

(George Stevens, USA, 1942)


Of all the American directors who worked in the magnificent genre of the screwball comedy, none fled this divine realm for more highbrow concerns quicker or more completely than George Stevens (A Place in the Sun [1951], Giant [1956]).

That is why The Talk of the Town, although reminiscent at moments of contemporaneous comic classics by Frank Capra, Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks, seems an altogether more serious affair – and also why it is less remembered and loved today.

The story begins almost in the vein of Fritz Lang's ethical drama Fury (1936). Political agitator Dilg (Cary Grant), framed for crimes of arson and murder, escapes from jail. He lands in a house being prepared by Nora (Jean Arthur) for the arriving legal scholar Lightcap (Ronald Colman).

The scene is set for a discussion and dramatisation of social issues – specifically, whether citizens should follow the letter or the spirit of the law.

Happily, some romantic comedy elements survive the didacticism. For once, it is genuinely hard to tell which of the principal men Nora will ultimately choose to love, especially at the point where they become best buddies and start exchanging personalities.

Stevens' always striking cinematic style – his odd compositions, striking flourishes and unique sense of timing – keeps alive this mixture of comedy, drama, philosophy and sentiment.

MORE Stevens: Shane

© Adrian Martin September 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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