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If you think you're seeing double in The Whole Town's Talking (1935), you're right. You get two Edward G. Robinsons for the price of one in this black comedy with a favorite Hollywood plot device - mistaken identity. At the opening of the film, you meet Arthur Ferguson Jones (Robinson), a timid hardware-store clerk with a crush on fellow worker Wilhelmina Clark (Jean Arthur). Without warning, he is arrested by the police who have mistaken him for his dead ringer, 'Killer' Mannion (also played by Robinson), a notorious public enemy. Once his innocence is quickly established, he is provided with an identity card to avoid future altercations and released. Naturally, Mannion gets word of this and shows up at Jones' home, demanding the use of the card so he can move easily about the city. To insure that Jones doesn't notify the police, Mannion takes Jones' girlfriend and his aunt (Effie Ellsler) as hostages.
The Whole Town's Talking managed to sneak past the Hays office and its stringent censorship of gangster pictures because the film was treated as a farce. Nevertheless, it's hard to ignore a darker side to the proceedings which seem to endorse an extreme solution for justice. The milquetoast clerk experiences a sense of power and self-confidence only by assuming the identity of his evil doppelganger, and his manhood is confirmed when he orders mob members to carry out a death sentence.
Edward G. Robinson was already tired of being cast as gangsters when he learned through his agent as well as gossip columnist Louella Parsons that Jack Warner had loaned him out to Columbia to make The Whole Town's Talking. He wasn't at all happy about making the film, which was adapted from a novel by William R. Burnett, the author of Little Caesar. Once he read the screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin, he changed his mind and rose to the challenge of playing dual roles. He also enjoyed an excellent working relationship with director John Ford and co-star Jean Arthur of whom he wrote in his autobiography, All My Yesterdays: "She was whimsical without being silly, unique without being nutty, a theatrical personality who was an untheatrical person. She was a delight to work with and to know."
Director: John Ford
Producer: Lester Cowan, John Ford
Screenplay: W. R. Burnett, Robert Riskin, Jo Swerling
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
Editor: Viola Lawrence
Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Arthur Ferguson Jones/'Killer' Mannion), Jean Arthur (Wilhelmina 'Bill' Clark), Wallace Ford (Healy), Arthur Hohl (Michael F. Boyle), Edward Brophy ('Slugs' Martin), Donald Meek (Mr. Hoyt).
by Jeff Stafford