A. F. Jones (Robinson) is an unremarkable office clerk whos got a big crush on resident bad girl, Wilhelmina Clark (Arthur). As per usual, his diffidence makes him highly uninteresting to Miss Clark until one day she finds out that hes a dead ringer to recently escaped gangster, Killer Mannion (also played by Robinson). Amused by this, he and Clark discuss its silliness at a local restaurant when a patron confuses him with the gangster, and has Jones falsely arrested. Once it's clear that he's not Mannion, Jones must carry a letter signed by the district attorney to avoid any further confusion.
This kerfuffle makes Jones a local celebrity, bringing the attention of a local newspaper that asks him to give his opinion about the famed murderer.
Unsurprisingly, Mannion finds out about the letter scheme, and forces Jones to hide him in his apartment and share the letter 50/50; Jones keeps it during the day while Mannion uses it at night, where he can commit crimes with impunity. Scared for his life and always the pushover, Jones submits to Mannion.
Later annoyed by the newspapers' critical look at his crimes, Mannion forces Jones to write about his escape from prison. This tips off the DA and company, since Jones is laying out details that only Mannion wouldve known. Growing suspicious herself, Miss Clark goes to Jones apartment, and discovers Mannion's ruse. But before she can call the police, shes kidnapped by the gangster and his mooks.
Fooling everyone, Mannion escapes the polices grip and sets Jones up; he tells him to deposit money in a bank, a ploy for Mannion to tip off the police, knowing Jones will be shot on the spot. Luckily for Jones, he forgets the deposit, and when he returns, Mannions mooks mistake him for their boss, and moronically tell him the plot against his life. No longer willing to be a pushover, Jones finally stands up for himself, and shoots down Mannion.
The Whole Towns Talking demonstrates the following tropes:
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Miss Clark likes it when Jones gets feisty:Miss Clark: You're becoming famous. Three of my girl friends asked me to get pictures of you. I told them the kind of a caveman you were. I can feel that kiss yet.Jones: Oh, I-I, I want to apologize for that Miss Clark.Miss Clark: What for? If it takes a few swigs to bring out that personality of yours, I'll buy you a case of Scotch.Jones: Oh, it wasn't the drinks. Something came over me and I just couldn't help it.Miss Clark: I'm glad you couldn't.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Jones undying love for Miss Clark.
- Can't Hold His Liquor: Jones gets drunk with his boss, and inadvertently kisses Miss Clark, as mentioned below.
- Cassandra Truth: The police, the DA, and even his boss, JG Carpenter, didnt believe Jones when he said that he wasnt Mannion.
- Deadpan Snarker: Miss Clark in spades.
- Embarrassing First Name: Wilhelmina Clark. She likes being called Miss Clark.
- Extreme Doormat: Jones character flaw is that he wont stand up for himself.
- Criminal Doppelgänger: An awesome performance by Robinson, he plays the mild-mannered clerk who happens to look like the coldblooded killer, Mannion.
- Genre Savvy: Miss Clark when shes being interrogated by the two detectives who still think that Jones is Mannion; she rolls her eyes when they tell her the usual cop trick of saying Jones confessed. She then trolls them by admitting to all the crimes they throw at her.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the beginning of the film, Jones wakes up and tells his pet bird that he had a wonderful dream about Miss Clark, but tells the bird that its too young to know all the juicy details.
- Good Bad Girl:Miss Clark: Oh, don't mention it. Always glad to serve a Public Enemy. Ah, what do you say we go up to your room and read it over?Jones: Alright. Oh, no-no, no, not upstairs.Miss Clark: Why not?Jones: Well, the, eh, the landlady's very strict about it.Miss Clark: [Seductively] Puh-lease, Mr. Jones. You can leave a door open.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Mannions plan to bump off Jones fails and gets him killed by the mild-mannered Jones.
- Kubrick Stare: Mannion gives a couple of these.
- Mistaken Identity: A classic comedy trope on display.
- No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Averted: Jones doesnt mind that Miss Clark does this.
- Not Afraid of You Anymore: Once Jones finds out about Mannions plan to kill him, he grabs the machine gun, and isnt taking anymore crap.
- Police are Useless: They think that many wont catch on two the letter plan even when Jones becomes a sensation.
- Purple Prose: In-Universe: Jones writes an eyeroll-inducing ode to Miss Clarks beauty.
- Smoking Is Cool: Jean Arthur makes it look super glamorous since she's a smoking bad girl.
- Stalker with a Crush: Miss Clark had a glamour shot of herself taken, and someone stole it at work. Turns out, Jones stole it, and hangs it by his bed.
- Wealthy Ever After: There was a reward of $25,000 for the capture or killing of Mannion, and since Jones did him in, he can now go to Shanghai with Miss Clark.