Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, August 12, 2013

People Will Talk

I really am all over the place when it comes to movies so it is very hard for me to choose which movies I might want to review here. Typically, I just stick to what I watch in theaters or certain gems like The Beguiled or Reflections in a Golden Eye that I might come across by chance while shopping or browsing Amazon. 

However, there are a few actors and directors that are not represented here that should be.

So that me correct that with my brilliant review of 1951's People Will Talk. Why this movie? Well, I really enjoy watching a good Cary Grant movie and the film's director Joseph L. Mankiewicz seems like the kind of guy a film snob should mention every now and then. Since this is the only movie they ever did together as actor/director and I just finished watching it again... I figure it's pretty convenient to review it.

I assume that everyone is familiar with Cary Grant (real name was Archibald Leach, FYI), but maybe not so much with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Well, Mankiewicz directed Julius Caesar (1953), The Barefoot Contessa, Sleuth, and Cleopatra as well as many other films. He also produced The Philadelphia Story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Keys to the Kingdom (which he co-wrote).

Mankiewicz (very much a liberal) was subject to scrutiny in the '50's because he openly opposed McCarthyism and movies like People Will Talk were blatant attempts to refuse and denounce McCarthyism (although he did yield to the nationalists during the adaptation process of The Quiet American by changing the presentation of the subject matter). And it makes sense that Cary Grant would star in it even though Grant wasn't particularly the political type. Grant was one of those rare actors that tried to stay out of the realm of politics, but a few of his colleagues and friends like Charles Chaplin had been affected by blacklisting at the time. So this pairing actually makes sense. 

With two parallel and potentially mentally taxing storylines to be juggled and attempts to gain a few laughs thrown in in order to keep the movie in the romantic comedy/drama genre, People Will Talk comes across as a bit uneven and herky-jerky. 

It's talkative, too. While the subject matter undoubtedly caused discussion and even dissension among Mankiewicz's peers, it's the way the subject matter is portrayed in this film that could very well put some folks off more than anything else. There isn't really any action here and much of the drama and humor takes place between people during discussions. This movie (other than being about a relationship with a pregnant woman out of wedlock or a representation of the McCarthy hearings) is also about people talking and listening to each other. The one guy who spends the entire movie talking at people and not listening to anyone's responses is obviously the bad guy portrayed brilliantly by Hume Cronyn. 

While the out of wedlock mother theme may not be such a heavy topic as it was in the 1950's, you'd be fooling yourself a little if you didn't think it still wasn't a sticky topic today in certain areas. Especially if you live in one of the red states. 

But one thing I noticed is that the love story itself between Dr. Praetorius (Cary Grant) and Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain) is a potential point of contention. Not only is Praetorius Deborah's doctor at one point, but he was also her professor at one point, too. So essentially we have the double whammy of a doctor/teacher having a relationship with a student/patient. Then he marries her after telling her that she isn't pregnant just to keep her from trying to kill herself again? Yeah, there's some heaviness here. 

We also have the mysterious character of Shunderson portrayed by Finlay Currie. Shunderson is the constant and loyal companion of Dr. Praetorius and he unintentionally serves as the catalyst that makes the investigation into the history of Dr. Praetorius that much more intense. While nothing so bold is made of their close relationship in the movie, it could very well be implied by the modern day audience that one of the reasons Dr. Praetorius was being investigated (aside from the uninformed opinion that he was a quack) was because he might be a homosexual. I don't think this particular angle was even on Mankiewicz's mind during filming (and probably not even on Grant's or Currie's or Cronyn's) because it doesn't even seem to be accidentally inferred, though. We are never asked to wonder if Praetorius is perceived to be a homosexual by some of his peers. 

However, when two men are constantly seen together... it could lead to improper assumptions in real life and if there's anything that uptight Repubs hate it's homosexuals. This is indeed a heavy topic for today's time. 

Again, these are things to think about while you watch the movie. 

Now I am about to spoil the ending of the film because there is something that warrants mention. So watch the movie or proceed at your own peril. Either way, knowing the ending shouldn't affect how much you enjoy it so do what you will.

At the end Shunderson is indeed revealed to have murdered somebody. While the events are explained in a semi-humorous way, there's no denying that we are hearing a tale of false-imprisonment and then actual murder. Praetorius willfully keeps silent about his association with Shunderson during the trial at the risk of his own professional disgrace until Shunderson himself decides to show up and clear the whole matter.

This is the most obvious parallel to the McCarthy hearings because a lot of actors, producers, screenwriters, and directors were blacklisted and subsequently ruined when they wouldn't name people possibly involved in the Communist party. Those that did drop names to get away clean like Sterling Hayden and Lee J. Cobb certainly lived to regret it. 

People will talk indeed. 

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen this but I will have to check it out. I like the veiled anti-McCarthy films of this era and I like Cary Grant so it sounds like a winning combination.

    Woody Allen has a McCarthy film called "The Front" that is very good if you're interested. Of course Woody made it in the 70s not in the 50's.