Ruth of Silver Screenings and Christina Wehner are hosting the DUAL ROLE BLOGATHON running from September 30th to October 2nd. Fascinating actors and performances are highlighted and recaps of contributions can be found here: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3.
"What about the McIntire account?!"
Edward G. Robinson and Edward G. Robinson star in this 1935 release from Columbia pictures based on a story by W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar). The screenplay is by Jo Swerling (It's a Wonderful Life) and Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night) and the leading lady is Jean Arthur (You Can't Take It With You). We may be forgiven for expecting Frank Capra's name attached to that pedigree, along with his being the Columbia lot big shot at that time. John Ford was the man in charge working with frequent collaborator, cinematographer Joseph August (The Informer). Ford's output for Columbia also includes later pictures The Last Hurrah, The Long Gray Line, Gideon's Day and Two Rode Together.
Eddie G. looked back at the film in his autobiography All My Yesterdays published in 1974:
"As for the director, John Ford, from my first meeting with him to the day the picture was completed I knew I was in the hands of the consummate professional. I felt safe and secure with him. If I argued a line of dialogue with him or objected to a bit of business, I can now assure you it was more to assert my ego than it was to attack him. It turned out he was right and I was wrong. The main point to be made is that he would sit me down and show me where I was wrong. He is a totally remarkable director and one of the few deserving a place in the Pantheon. I'm told he's aging now, and cranky; well, I'm aging now, and cranky, but I bet if the right script came along (and Jo Swerling were still around to write it), John Ford and I could knock the shit out of it."
Robinson is introduced to us as a clerk in the J.G. Carpenter Corporation (don't ask me what they do). He toils away by day in their accounting department. He is a dependably loyal employee who hasn't been late to work in his entire eight year career with the company. By night Arthur Ferguson Jones cuts loose on his typewriter writing stories of adventure in faraway lands. By day this Jonesy character pines for the love of his "Cymbaline", his co-worker, the quintessential modern gal Miss Clark played by Jean Arthur. While he barely says "boo" to the girl, Ferguson has gone so far as to steal a photograph of her to frame in honour on his wall. Arthur Ferguson Jones life is about to become a roller coaster ride.
Jean Arthur, Edward G. Robinson
The notorious gangster "Killer" Mannion has escaped the penitentiary. It is not warm blood that courses through his veins, but the ice cold kind that allows him to commit mayhem and kill with impunity. A $25,000 reward on his head has police and civilians alike itching to catch Mannion. Mild mannered demeanour aside, our shy little clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones bears an uncanny resemblance to the notorious Mannion. Miss Clark and his co-workers have noted it, and a fellow customer at a diner played by Donald Meek notices the resemblance as well. He calls the police in hopes of receiving the reward. About a hundred cops and two hundred sirens descent on the diner and the befuddled Jones and his "moll", Miss Clark are hustled into custody. Jones is distraught, confused and, by golly, at one point he even faints. Clark takes it all in stride as a great joke.
Once the turmoil is sorted it, the authorities decide to give Jones a "passport" in the form of a letter on official stationery to avoid his being hassled by the police. J.G. Carpenter (head of the mysterious to me corporation) played by Paul Harvey (The Horn Blows at Midnight), urged by newspaper reporter Healy played by Wallace Ford (The Lost Patrol) encourage a lubricated with scotch for the first time in life Jonesy to attach his byline to a phony life story of Mannion. Good for the paper. Good for the corporation which will be liberally mentioned. Good for Jonesy? Robinson as Jones tasting his first cigar and liquor is a comic delight as his face registers distaste, apprehension and finally succumbs to the Bacchanalia.
It is at this point that we meet Edward G. Robinson as "Killer" Mannion confronting Arthur when he returns home from work. I will confess at this point that when I first saw this film in my youth and Mannion made his appearance, in the back my mind a little voice said "Here's the real Edward G. Robinson". Of course, I know and knew he was an actor and in all of his films I probably never saw the real Edward G. Robinson, but my reaction goes to show how pervasive was his gangster persona, despite the number of times (A Slight Case of Murder, Brother Orchid, Larceny, Inc.) he would spoof that image.
The intimidating Mannion has Jonesy shaking in his boots as he is forced to share his lodgings and that official "passport". It appears that Mannion has Jones and the authorities buffaloed, but he may go too far. When those he cares for are threatened even a milquetoast like Arthur Ferguson Jones will find a spine. Or, as Miss Clark says: "I told you that rabbit had something."
Edward G. Robinson reminds us in this film of his versatility, not only in characterizations, but in an ability to handle comedy. Cinematographer Joseph August, Oscar nominated for Portrait of Jennie and Gunga Din, gives the film a moody gloss that works well for the split screen scenes of Robinson playing off of Robinson. Jean Arthur came into her own as the fast-talking, independent professional woman of the 1930s in this film. The next year would see her light up the screen in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
The supporting cast of character actors are perfectly cast and a delight for the audience.
Arthur Hohl (The Island of Lost Souls) and James Donlan (Belle of the Nineties) are a couple of cops with a gag line I won't spoil for you here. Arthur Byron (The Mummy) plays a frustrated police chief. Byron played the role of newspaper editor Randall in the Broadway production of Five Star Final which Edward G. Robinson played in the 1931 film. J. Farrell MacDonald (Topper) is the prison warden who is never sure when he's confronting Mannion or Jones. Wallace Ford is Healy, a newspaper reporter of the hard-drinking, don't let the truth get in the way of a good story variety. Edward Brophy (G Men) is Slugs Martin, a squealer with plenty of reason to be afraid of Mannion. You'll also spot Joe Sawyer (Christmas Eve) as a henchman, Francis Ford (The Quiet Man) as a reporter, and the ever-popular Bess Flowers in office attire as a secretary.
Despite all of the leading lights in this movie, it is a toss up as to whether it is completely stolen by Donald Meek or Etienne Girardot.
Donald Meek (Stagecoach) is Hoyt, the man cheated of the reward when the Mannion he spotted at lunch turned out to be Jones. He dogs the footsteps of the suddenly famous clerk waiting for his chance to become wealthy and famous. He's the most nervous shamus you ever saw!
Etienne Girardot (Twentieth Century) is Mr. Seaver, the fussy office manager at the J.G. Carpenter Corporation. Seaver is a fellow who sweats the small stuff and his concern is not entirely for his employee Jones' well-being, but the status of the oft-mentioned McIntire account. Oh, dear!
Ford has fun with the diminutive stature of the two character actors, and it appears the actors themselves are having great fun with their roles in The Whole Town's Talking.
Fans of Edward G. Robinson will not be disappointed by his work in this film as two disparate characters. Fans of Jean Arthur will enjoy her display of spunk. Supporting player mavens have almost too much to enjoy. John Ford fans will appreciate the knack he displays for the wild-paced comedy. A dual role may be a delightful change of pace for an actor, but it is also an extra kick for fans.