The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)


John Ford

A meek milquetoast of a clerk is mistaken for Public Enemy #1, and the notorious killer takes advantage of the situation.


6 June 2005 | by planktonrules (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

I really liked this film. The film has a lot of depth and yet has been mostly forgotten today. It just goes to prove that Edward G. Robinson can do more than just play the gangster. In fact, in this movie he plays BOTH a gangster and a wimpy middle-aged man who LOOKS like the gangster.

The movie does not really show the mad dog gangster much but centers on the wimpier character who is often mistreated and under-appreciated by those around him. When, by chance, he is mistaken for the mobster, the fun begins and it all works together for a charming little 1930s Hollywood ending.


The perfect comedy – a sheer delight!

Author: manuel-pestalozzi from Zurich, Switzerland
9 November 2005

I saw this movie a long time ago as a teenager during a Edward G. Robinson retrospective. It was the one that stuck in my mind, and I never forgot it. Now I have it on videotape and watch it regularly, it stands multiple viewing very well.

The Whole Town’s Talking is one of those perfect little movies. Everything falls into place – the acting, the pace, the timing of the jokes, the dialog. Even the set design is fabulous, it was basically the big, bright office space in which the good guy Robinson plays „slaves” that was unforgettable to me. The movie boasts an assortment of caricature like characters like no other movie I know, beside Robinson I would like to mention Jean Arthur, of course, and the two funny little guys, Donald Meek and, even more memorable, Etienne Girardot as the pedantic office overseer who urges Robinson to get on with the Macintyre account.


In its social comment The Whole Town’s Talking reminds me of the work of Preston Sturgess. Mentionable are the media hype about a famous gangster which is really over the top (it’s up there with His Girl Friday in this aspect) and the incompetence of the police force which is unable to deal with the gangster and even less with the media and is presented as a helpless and clueless organization. So the movie still has some actuality.

Movie buffs who look at John Ford as an „auteur” may be disappointed. The Whole Town’s Talking is very much a product of the studio system. But it amply shows what great things that system was able to accomplish at times!


Pure pleasure!

Author: Kalaman from Ottawa
18 June 2002

This is an atypical and impersonal Ford film. Given the studio (Columbia Pictures) and the screenwriter (Robert Riskin), this is an ideal stuff for Frank Capra. But it remains without a doubt one of the most enjoyable and pleasurable comedies ever made. It features graceful dynamism and vibrancy that are rare in the Ford oeuvre. It is also one of his fastest movies. It contains what it is probably one of the finest Edward G. Robinson performances I have seen. He is outstanding in the dual role of a mild, working class office clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones who is mistaken for a ruthless mobster Mannion (the role he perfected in “Little Caesar”). And then there is the lovely Jean Arthur as Robinson’s coolly self-reliant co-worker, who starts by pitying him and then encourages him, and ultimately falls in love with him. She and Robinson are superb together. It is nowhere near her splendid presence in Mitchell Leisen’s “Easy Living” and Frank Borzage’s “History Is Made at Night”, but this was the sort of role Arthur was to make of her own.

A must-see!


Mr. Winkle Meets Little Caesar

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
2 January 2007

I don’t think there’s anyone who’s ever seen The Whole Town’s Talking and doesn’t believe this was a film intended for Frank Capra. The mere fact that the screenplay was co-written by Robert Riskin who won an Oscar together with Capra for It Happened One Night the year before should give ample indication. If Capra had a choice between this and Broadway Bill he chose wrong.

Although this kind of comedy is not usually what is found in John Ford films, Ford does OK by it. I don’t think he ever directed again anything that could be remotely classified as screwball comedy.


Edward G. Robinson who would make his second and last appearance in a Ford film 34 years later in Cheyenne Autumn, plays a dual role. He plays Killer Mannion in the tradition he established as Little Caesar and also A.L. Jones a meek, mild mannered clerk a type Robinson would play later in Mr. Winkle Goes to War.

Mannion’s escaped from prison and there’s a manhunt on for him, similar to the kind that was on for John Dillinger a year earlier. The police will simply shoot to kill. Bad luck for a guy that looks like Mannion and worse luck when Mannion finds out about his doppleganger and tries to make use of him.

Robinson is fine in his dual performance, but the film was a milestone for Jean Arthur who plays Robinson’s fellow employee and despite his being a milquetoast, she sees something in him. Up to this point Arthur had played a lot of ingénues and loyal wives to leading men. This is her first role in a screwball type comedy that she became known for, in fact what she’s remembered for mostly. Of course a year later, Harry Cohn did team her with Frank Capra and they certainly made some cinematic history.


My favorite two supporting parts are Etienne Girardot as Robinson’s officious little office manager and Donald Meek another milquetoast who originally mistakenly turns in the clerk as the gangster and stays on the ‘case.’

Though he’s not in his element John Ford serves a nice piece of entertainment.

Robinson in “duel” roles

Author: theowinthrop from United States
17 April 2006

In 1933 Edward G. Robinson had finally essayed a comedy, THE LITTLE GIANT, with passable results. There he tackled the plot of a former racketeer discovering how unworthy the leaders of “good” society could actually be. The same type of a plot would be used again in Robinson’s A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER. But in 1935 Robinson was able to tackle a variant on gangster comedy. It was closer to Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, as he played good guy wimp Arthur “Jonesy” Jones and public enemy # 1 Killer Mannion.


Identical twins, they find they are drawn together by a physical chance. Mannion discovers that Jones looks so like him that he might be able to avoid police surveillance by switching places with Jones (who, for safety sake, won’t try to stop him). Jones finds his job at jeopardy, his safety at jeopardy, and his girl friend “Bill” (Jean Arthur) possibly at jeopardy.

There are some choice moments in the film – Ed Brophy, as the chief witness against Mannion, wandering away to his doom accompanied by “Jonesy” (or was it “Jonesy”), and the antics of two particularly dull comic cops (James Donlon and – surprisingly bright in the role – Arthur Hohl). Robinson as patsy and fiend is equally effective, particularly as Mannion decides the time has come to get rid of his harmless doppelganger and take over his place in the world. But will he succeed…or will “Jonesy’s” ineptitude and timidity upset his plans.


The director of the film was John Ford – it was his first film with either Robinson (who only showed up again in a supporting part in CHEYENNE AUTUMN)and his only one with Arthur. As such it reminds us of his film ARROWSMITH, which was his only film with Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes. In both cases he did well with his stars, and one wishes he had tried a second major film with Robinson, Arthur, Colman, and Hayes later on. But at least he did make these two films.


One Striking Robinson Moment of Real Anguish In A Comedy

Author: Dale Houstman from Minneapolis, MN
5 January 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is (correctly enough) billed as a “crime comedy” but that tone is not entirely maintained throughout the film, and to good effect. For one thing, Robinson (as “Jonesy”) emanates a very palpable feeling of repression and yearning for a more romantic existence throughout the film, and this is underscored by his poetic ambitions, and the fact he named his cat “Abelard” for just two examples.


But the most powerfully emotional scene in the film – and the one which most breaks the comedy constriction – is when Mannion is finally gunned down by his own men, entirely at “Jonesy’s” direction. It is not a moment which is let off with comedic ease, and this is marvelously portrayed in a fleeting closeup of Robinson (as “Jonesy”) as the gangs carts Mannion off to another room – the camera cuts away to a shot of “Jonesy’s” face, and what one sees there (underscored by an anguished bark) is a true second of real anguish and guilt over what he has just be responsible for. Although Mannion was a murderer (and this “crime” of “Jonesy’s” is partly in response to his discovering Mannion was trying to gt him killed), the murder is not tossed off without emotional undertones of true anxiety. It is a great sequence, possibly entirely a matter of Robinson’s skill and feel for the character.


The comedic moments go down easy, Jean Arthur is at her tough girl best, and the film abounds with the “usual suspects” of Hollywood character actors. It is well worth viewing as a light farce. But – for this viewer – that one quick brush with actual internal pain somehow puts the rest of the film in a briefly glimpsed and different universe of real human morality. If for no other reason, (and there are many) that one tiny moment makes this film highly recommendable.




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