Talk of the Town, The (1935): Oscar Nominated Picture Starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and Ronald Colman

Columbia

Made in the same year as “Woman of the Year,” George Stevens’ “Talk of Town” is an overrated, verbose romantic comedy with dark overtones, reflective of the War years. The script, penned by Sidney Buchman and Irwin Shaw based on Sidney Harmon’s story, revolves around a classic romantic triangle. The movie stars Cary Grant, as a man on the run from the police, Jean Arthur as the woman who hides him, and Ronlad Colman as a Justice.

The story begins peacefully, when law professor Michael Lightcap (Colman) takes lodgings in the home of schoolteacher Noras Shelley (Jean Arthur), wishing to spend quiet summer writing, while waiting an appointment to the Supreme Court. Things change, when Leopold Dilg (Grant) escapes from prison after being accused of setting a deadly factory fire and invades Nora’s house, looking for shelter. Needless to say, both men fall for Nora.

A serio comedy of misunderstandings and mistaken identities ensue, when Nora takes Leopold as a refugee, claiming that he is the new gardener. It goes without saying that Leopold is innocent, framed by a corrupt local government for a crime he didn’t commit. What’s noteworthy is that Stevens and his scenarists don’t use this premise in the way that Hitchcock did in numerous suspense thrillers about wrongly accused men.

Ronald Colman’s first film at Columbia since Frank Capra’s 1937 hit “Lost Horizon” was a commercial hit due to the star power, timely subject, and darkly humorous tone.

Cast

Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant)
Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur)
Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman)
Sam Yates (Edgar Buchanan)
Regina Bush (Glenda Farrell)
Andrew Holmes (Charles Dingle)
Mrs. Shelley (Emma Dunn)
Rilney (Rex Ingram)
Jan Pulaski (Leonid Kinskey)
Clyde Bracken (Tom Tyler)

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by George Stevens
Original Story: Sidney Harmon
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Irwin Shaw
Cinematography (b/w): Ted Telzlaff
Interior Decoration (b/w): Lionel Banks, Rudolph Sternad, Fay Babcock
Film Editing: Otto Meyer
Score: Frederick Hollander, Morris Stoloff

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

Easily one of the worst films to have ever won the Best Picture Oscar, Mrs. Miniver competed against The Invaders, Kings Row, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Pied Piper, The Pride of the Yankees, Random Harvest, The Talk of the Town, Wake Island, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Most of these films were patriotic flag-wavers, reflecting the surrounding reality of the U.S. 1941 entry into WWII. Next to “Mrs. Miniver,” the Gary Cooper sports biopic “The Pride of the Yankees,” was the most nominated (11) picture, though it won only one Oscar, for Daniel Mandell’s editing.

“Mrs. Miniver” is one of the few films that have garnered nominations in all four acting categories: Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress; in fact, there were two women in the supporting league alone. Teresa Wright joined a small group of Academy actors, have who received lead and supporting nomination in the same year; Wright was also nominated for “Pride of the Yankees.”

George Stevens Career

Evaluating the career of George Stevens, who was born on December 18, 1904, presents a challenge for film historians and critics. His artistic reputation has been in such decline that it’s easy to forget that in the 1950s, Stevens was the most prestigious filmmaker working in Hollywood. One of Hollywood’s least productive directors, Stevens made only 25 films in a career spanning four decades. Nonetheless, no less than seven of his films were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. This meager output (by standards of his contemporaries) is often attributed to Stevens’ perfectionism and methodical attention to detail, spending long years on the pre and post-production of his movies.

The vast majority of Stevens’ films were made during one creative and prolific decade, from 1933 (“The Cohens and Kellys in Trouble”) to 1943 (“The More the Merrier”). Between “I Remember Mama” (1948) and his last picture, “The Only Game in Town” (1970), Stevens’ productivity declined, and he turned in only half a dozen pictures. Four of these films, “A Place in the Sun,” “Shane,” “Giant,” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” catapulted him to the Hollywood pantheon of “serious and important” directors. But these are also the films that began to tarnish his critical reputation among the more cerebral cineastes.

Stevens’s fame reached its height in 1953, when he received the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy realized that despite nominations that year for Stevens’ Western “Shane, Zinnemann’s “From Here to Eternity” would sweep most of the Oscars, including Best Director, which it did. By that time, Stevens had already won his first directing Oscar for “A Place in the Sun,” in 1951. In 1956, Stevens won his second directorial Oscar for “Giant,” a film that was singled out in other categories.

The critics of the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema are considered to be the first to point out that Stevens was too obvious in his classicism and over-deliberateness. And as noted, Stevens doesn’t fare well in Andrew Sarris’ “The American Cinema,” still the Bible of Auteurism.

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