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The Talk of the Town

The Talk of the Town

Thursday May, 22 2014 at 05:45 PM

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The Talk of the Town stirred up an Oscar® buzz in 1942 with seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture of the year. But the competition was tough. And as America went off to war, the tone of the country and the Oscars shifted. Comedies, even one so seemingly democratic as The Talk of the Town, which openly addressed idealistic concepts of law and justice, were overlooked in favor of more patriotic fare. Other Best Picture nominations that year included the all-American contenders Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Pride of the Yankees, with the Oscar® for Best Picture going to the home front drama Mrs. Miniver (which, ironically, was set in England). The Talk of the Town also struck out in the categories of Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, and Best Original Story and Screenplay. But despite seven nominations and no wins, The Talk of the Town still marked an important moment in the careers of its stars Cary Grant and Ronald Colman.

Grant had been absent from the screen for almost a year prior to The Talk of the Town. His last picture had been Penny Serenade (1941), which like The Talk of the Town was directed by George Stevens (Grant made three movies under his direction; the first being Gunga Din in 1939). Penny Serenade would bring Grant good luck; while filming The Talk of the Town, the actor learned that he'd been nominated for his first Oscar - a Best Actor nomination for his performance in Penny Serenade. And while he didn't win (the Oscar went to Gary Cooper as Sergeant York), 1942 proved to be memorable to Grant in other ways. Aside from his first Oscar nomination, Cary Grant legally changed his name from Archibald Alexander Leach, became an American citizen and married heiress Barbara Hutton. That's quite a year by anyone's standards.

As for Colman, the 51-year-old British actor hadn't made a movie for Columbia since Lost Horizon in 1937. At the time, the studio was headed by Harry Cohn and Colman, like a lot of stars, was less than fond of Cohn's infamous bad temper and crudeness. "I don't get ulcers, I give 'em!" quipped Cohn in one oft repeated quote. Jean Arthur, Colman's co-star in The Talk of the Town, apparently had no love for Cohn either. But Colman agree to do The Talk of the Town, only after being reassured by Stevens that under no circumstances would he have to deal with Cohn. And it was a smart move. The Talk of the Town sparked new life into Colman's fairly dormant career. Following the success of The Talk of the Town, Colman starred in Random Harvest (1942), which earned him renewed critical acclaim and his third Oscar nomination. While Colman would lose the Best Actor award for Random Harvest to James Cagney's patriotic, flag-waving performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), the actor's career would remain on a high pitch, with films like Kismet (1944) and Champagne for Caesar (1950). And Colman finally did get his Oscar. The fourth time was the charm in 1947 with his role as the delusional Shakespearean actor in A Double Life.

Neither Grant nor Colman were particularly keen on co-starring with each other in The Talk of the Town since both stars were used to having the leading man billing all to themselves. Stevens wisely played up this conflict on screen, leaving audiences guessing until the last minute whether Jean Arthur's character would chose Grant or Colman. The last minute choice carried over into real life as well. Stevens filmed two endings to The Talk of the Town, one for each romantic possibility, and left the film's outcome up to preview audiences. The screening audiences agreed overwhelmingly that the choice was obvious. See if you agree with their decision.

A couple of interesting side notes to The Talk of the Town: filming was to begin on January 17, 1942, the day Hollywood learned the sad news of Carole Lombard's death in a plane crash. Stevens halted work on the set and sent both cast and crew home. Also, screenwriter Sidney Buchman (who co-wrote the script with Irwin Shaw) was blacklisted in the 1950s. Consequently, Buchman, one of the men who penned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), left the U.S. and began working in Fox's European division. Buchman would remain in France until his death in 1975.

Producer/Director: George Stevens
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Sidney Harmon, Dale Van Every, Irwin Shaw
Production Design: Lionel Banks
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Costume Design: Irene
Film Editing: Otto Meyer
Original Music: Frederick Hollander Cast: Cary Grant (Leopold Dilg), Jean Arthur (Nora Shelley), Ronald Colman (Michael Lightcap), Edgar Buchanan (Sam Yates), Glenda Farrell (Regina Bush), Charles Dingle (Andrew Holmes), Rex Ingram (Tilney), Tom Tyler (Clyde Bracken).
BW-119m.

by Stephanie Thames

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