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Film / Talk of the Town

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"What is the law? It's a gun pointed at somebody's head. All depends upon which end of the gun you stand, whether the law is just or not."
Leopold Dilg

The Talk of the Town is a 1942 comedy-drama film directed by George Stevens, starring Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, and Jean Arthur.

Grant is Leopold Dilg, a labor activist who is on trial for arson and murder in regards to a fire that burned the local mill. Dilg, who claims that he is being set up by the unethical mill boss, escapes from prison and finds his way to the home of his old girlfriend, Nora Shelley (Arthur). Arthur is fixing up the house in order to rend it to eminent law professor Michael Lightcap (Colman), who is due to arrive the next day. Nora agrees to let Leopold hide there for the night, but then Professor Lightcap arrives that same night, a day early. Hilarity Ensues and romance blooms as Nora frantically tries to hide Leopold from Michael—eventually passing Leopold off as the gardener—while at the same time trying to convince to intervene in the Dilg case and clear Dilg's name.


Tropes in this work:

  • Action Prologue: Starts with the burning of the mill, then Dilg's escape from jail.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Andrew Holmes, who burned down his own mill and pinned it on Dilg.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Michael. The film keeps the audience guessing right to the end, but at the last moment Nora chooses Leopold.
  • Driving a Desk: Several times, particularly noticeable when Dilg's lawyer is driving Nora away from the police station.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Nora has one when she figures out where Michael must be hiding—he's doubled back to the rented house.
  • Frame-Up: Mill owner Andrew Holmes burned the mill for the insurance money, while framing Dilg, a whistleblower who was going public about the mill being unsafe.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Why did you lock the door?"..."Did I? Why, isn't that queer?" Later, Bracken's girlfriend says his death gives her "a queer feeling."
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  • Important Haircut: Michael tells Nora that he decided on Growing the Beard years ago, as a young law school student, as it made him look more serious. Nora later throws this back in Michael's face when Michael won't help Leopold, saying "you've been old your whole life" and telling him to keep the beard. When Michael shaves his beard, he's leaving his rigid principles behind and intervening to help Leopold.
  • Kangaroo Court: Leopold cites this as why he escaped, and given that the judge is in cahoots with the mill owner, he's probably right.
  • Love Triangle: Two different handsome, charming men going after Nora.
  • Never Found the Body: Significantly, the body of Clyde Bracken, the foreman supposedly killed in the fire, was not found. Bracken's hiding in Boston.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Ronald Colman, playing an American, speaking in his regular London accent—but when you have the velvety voice of Ronald Colman, why change it?
  • Principles Zealot: Lightcap, as he explains to Leopold when he's calling the police to take Leopold away, after they've had long philosophical discussions on the rule of law. Part of Lightcap's character growth is realizing that the law isn't perfect and is sometimes better observed in the breach.
  • Shaming the Mob: Michael gives a long speech after showing up at the courthouse in the nick of time with Clyde Bracken.
    Michael: This is your law and your finest possession - it makes you free men in a free country. Why have you come here to destroy it? If you know what's good for you, take those weapons home and burn them!
  • Single Tear: Michael's Important Haircut is overplayed just a wee bit when there's a closeup of his valet shedding One Single Tear.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Leopold and Michael play chess. This helps to establish that Leopold is the intellectual equal of Michael the law professor.
  • Spinning Paper: Used repeatedly for transitions, exposition, and montage—spinning papers when Dilg escapes, after he's caught, when he's freed.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: An angry mob nearly lynches Leopold, before Michael shows up with a very much alive Clyde Bracken in tow.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: Leopold stands next to his own poster while staking out the Boston post office for Clyde Bracken.