The Talk Of The Town – George Stevens
The romantic comedy is a staple of the Hollywood film. In this type of film a woman usually chooses between two men, and she virtually always chooses the more romantic and unconventional of the two after getting to know him through some unusual circumstance. This is the basic outline for many films which are merely mindless fluff, but it is also the outline for such fine films as It Happened One Night (1934) and Holiday (1938) (though the latter finds a man choosing between two women). An outstanding example of what can be done in this genre is The Talk of the Town. Not only does it have a schoolteacher having to choose between a law school dean and an escapee from jail but also all three are fully developed, interesting characters and a serious theme is explored—the value of the intellectual life as opposed to the practical. The Talk of the Town is both thought-provoking and highly entertaining.
The film is built around an ideological opposition which also becomes a romantic triangle: Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant) represents the unintellectual, even antiintellectual, position; Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman) the purely intellectual one; and Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur) a middle ground between them. The three come together one night in the house owned by Nora which she is preparing for Lightcap, a law school dean who is renting the house for the summer and is scheduled to move in the next day. First Dilg, a local political activist who has escaped jail just before his trial for murder, comes to the house to hide. Though she knows him somewhat and does not seem to think he is dangerous, Nora does not welcome him, but she does consent to his staying the night in the attic. Minutes later, Lightcap arrives one day early. The next day when Dilg’s lawyer, Sam Yates (Edgar Buchanan), tells Nora to keep Dilg there and take care of him, Nora, to make the best of the situation, gets the job of cook and secretary to Lightcap, and Dilg comes out of hiding to pretend to be the gardener. Three quite different people are now forced to spend quite a great deal of time together. Romance develops, but more important is the effect they have on one another’s ideas.
At the beginning Lightcap thinks that law is a theoretical matter and that he cannot concern himself with individual cases. Dilg, being an individual case himself, takes the opposite position that the law has no soul, that it needs human qualities.
Dilg is accused of starting a fire in which a man was killed. He knows he is innocent, but he is unwilling to risk standing trial because a very powerful man in the town, Andrew Holmes, does not like him or his ideas and has enough influence to ensure that the trial will go the way he wants. Yates, Nora, and Dilg begin a campaign to convince Lightcap of Dilg’s innocence and the impossibility of his getting a fair trial. Lightcap, who has taken the house for the summer so he can write a book, at first resents this intrusion of the real world on the time he was planning to spend on scholarship, but he is gradually convinced as Nora uses such tactics as taking him to a baseball game where they “happen” to sit near the judge who would try the case and Lightcap hears how biased the man is.