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A hilarious attack on unnecessary rules, and on the people who enforce them anyway
People Will Talk (1951)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz is always an impressive director, though this is surely one of his lesser films. That doesn't keep it from being interesting throughout, and the comic scenes are really hilarious. Of course, it doesn't hurt to use Cary Grant as the lead, with three oddball men backing him up (the father-in-law, the atomic scientist, and his old, silent friend). Across from him is the charming, somewhat demur Jeanne Crain, who does sometimes perk things up a bit, but she is generally fairly stately.
I say this because the movie itself resembles Jeanne Crain: pretty, effective, restrained, and with a short nose. That is, it never quite takes off, and even the lively Grant as an unorthodox doctor seems buttoned up, much like his role in The Bishop's Wife, rather than his funnier side (most of his films, including Monkey Business the following year) or more dapper side (especially later one, but even in Only Angels Have Wings.) Since Grant anchors the film, this all matters. At times, his tone becomes more than professorial, and he sounds like a politician, but a respectable one, and People Will Talk is partly an anti-McCarthy, anti-witch hunt film from the Red Scare days. The speeches are meant to be taken quite seriously, no matter how absurd the comedy. Without this context, a lot of it will seem lofty and wordy. In fact, it still does, a flaw that time will only make worse.
No matter what our era remembers of Joe McCarthy, the movie demands little of most of the characters, and more makes fun of highbrow men, and of institutions in general, from the university to marriage itself, all as allegory to an establishment of rules above principles, which the movie makers and Grant's character clearly abhor. What matters more is the human heart, in medicine and in love, and Grant, with dignity, shows the way.
People Will Talk is both breezy and weighty--a solid farce, if that isn't contradictory. Some of the secondary actors are terrific, especially Walter Slezak (who appears in a similar, happy role in Born to Kill). As usual, Mankiewicz surrounds himself with talent behind the scenes at Fox, with Milton Krasner behind the camera (in high key style) and Alfred Newman in charge of music (some of which is diagetic).
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