People Will Talk — written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Fairytale Romantic Drama. A famed university clinician has his medical practiced defamed by a malignant colleague. 103 minutes Black and White 1951
This is 1951, and this is a movie about a witch-hunt. Hume Cronyn plays the witch, partnered in virtue by our belovèd Margaret Hamilton, than which there is no one witchier. Hume Cronyn is always despicable, is he not – even his eyeglasses are despicable. And in this case he plays the entire McCarthy Senate Hearing on Un-American Activities all rolled up into one. How this film slipped by the HUAC at that time is beyond me. Anyhow, the film is listed as a comedy, because Cary Grant takes it all in stride. It’s a hard part to make work, because Professor Praetorius is perfect. A pompous know-it-all is how Cary Grant’s wife characterizes him, and to edge it off Grant plays the whole part as though he were in possession of an amusing secret, which works pretty well, although nothing can quite dilute the Teutonic perfection of Professor Pretorius, a man with a past, and even a German name. Then the past is explained away by the wonderful Finlay Currie (remember him in David Lean’s Great Expectations?) in the famous story about Mr. Shunderson. Walter Slezak plays a well-leavened dumpling, and Sidney Blackmer intones his lines as though no one sat nearer than the second balcony. (I remember him in Sweet Bird Of Youth on Broadway doing the same thing, and there was no second balcony there either.) Jeanne Crain is a hard pill to swallow always, but here she rises to the occasion of a well-written grown-up role. She brings her natural spite into it, and it serves her well. Most interesting though is the direction of this screenplay, which is filmed quite simply and wisely, that is to say without reaction shots. When two people are arguing, both are on camera, when three three. This means the energy remains undivided, unsevered, undiluted, and intimate. Young directors should learn from it. As in his All About Eve it works like gangbusters, particularly since the scenes are long, one starting in a cowshed and moving into the separator room, and the big confrontation scene all played out from beginning to end in a bedroom, and eventually the trial scene, where Mr. Shunderson plays the deus ex macchina. I like films with a lot of talk, and this is one. It is a fable, though, and in fables don’t expect light Cary Grantish humor; remember, like Grimms‘ it’s a German fairy tale. But do expect a happy ending. I loved the improbabilities of the revelation scene — but then, I’m always inclined to say, Why not?