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Film / The Whole Town's Talking

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The Whole Town’s Talking is a 1935 comedy film directed by John Ford, starring Edward G. Robinson and Jean Arthur.

A. F. Jones (Robinson) is an unremarkable office clerk who’s 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 he’s 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 would’ve known. Growing suspicious herself, Miss Clark goes to Jones’ apartment, and discovers Mannion's ruse. But before she can call the police, she’s kidnapped by the gangster and his mooks.

Fooling everyone, Mannion escapes the police’s 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, Mannion’s 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 Town’s 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, didn’t believe Jones when he said that he wasn’t Mannion.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: An awesome performance by Robinson, he plays the mild-mannered clerk who happens to look like the coldblooded killer, Mannion.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Miss Clark in spades. When the police think she's Mannion's gangster moll, she plays it to the hilt.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Wilhelmina Clark. She likes being called “Miss Clark”.
  • Extreme Doormat: Jones’ character flaw is that he won’t stand up for himself.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Mannion tries to pretend he's Jones, Miss Clark notices his behavior has changed and quickly figures out the ruse. On the other side of this flip, Jones is able to trick Mannion's gang with this ruse without a hitch.
  • Genre Savvy: Miss Clark when she’s 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: Jones wakes up and tells his pet bird that he had a wonderful dream about Miss Clark, but tells the bird that it’s too young to know all the juicy details which evidently violate Section II of the Hays Code.
  • 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: Mannion’s 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 doesn’t mind that Miss Clark does this.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Once Jones finds out about Mannion’s plan to kill him, he grabs the machine gun, and isn’t taking anymore crap.
  • Police Are Useless: They think that many won’t catch onto the letter plan even when Jones becomes a sensation.
  • Purple Prose: In-Universe: Jones writes an eyeroll-inducing ode to Miss Clark’s beauty.
  • Running Gag: Seaver trying to get Jones to work on the McIntyre account.
  • 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.