Author Joe Adamson once coined the phrase "The Myrna Loy Westerns of Alfred Hitchcock" to describe how inaccurate film historians could be when they are writing about things they know nothing about. THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING is the one and only example of a nearly-as-rare genre - The Edward G. Robinson Screwball Farces of John Ford. It features a superb star in a dual role, a beautiful and bubbly Jean Arthur (whose career took off thanks to this film), an excellent supporting cast and a great director. But it lacks the consistently sharp humor necessary to be a prime screwball comedy.
Still, Edward G. Robinson movies are rarely without some reward, simply because the "little big man" was one of our best movie actors. Here he plays a mild-mannered office worker who is the spitting image of a vicious gangster on the run from the law. Complications result, naturally, with both men winding up being confused for the other. Wackiness ensues, but not enough to make this film more than mildly entertaining. Of course, Robinson is in his element as "Killer" Bannion, yet another variation on his Little Caesar character. But it is in the role of Arthur Ferguson Jones, the office worker, that Robinson excels. He doesn't play it like "Eddie G. as a milquetoast", he simply is "Jonesy", meek contract writer, as all traces of Robinson melt away.
The special effects are sometimes obvious as can be expected for a 1935 film, but there are a few shots that are extremely sophisticated for their time. See the picture above for one example: Bannion handing Jonesy a letter within a self-contained two-shot. Today this can be done easily with CGI effects, but this was 80 years ago. If it is a split screen, it is exceedingly clever, as there is no obvious split point, Bannion's hand extends way beyond the point where the split should be, and the letter is transferred to Jones's hand without any editing. If the letter or hand is animated, it is not obvious. And if the Eddie G. receiving the letter is actually a Robinson lookalike (notice how he steps sideways into the frame without revealing his full face), well, considering the plot itself, the mind boggles at that thought!
THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING, made at Columbia, is pleasurable, but it is not one of Robinson's greatest films, nor one of Ford's. However, if you are looking for an Edward G. Robinson Screwball Farce of John Ford's, this is the film for you. - JB