People Will Talk
Cast & Crew
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
One morning, narrow-minded Professor Rodney Elwell questions housekeeper Sarah Pickett about Dr. Noah Praetorius, one of Elwell's fellow professors at a prestigious medical school. Elwell is jealous of Praetorius, whose unorthodox, humanist views make him popular with patients and students, and is pleased with the information Sarah provides about Praetorius' stay in her rural town years earlier. Sarah also reveals information about Praetorius' mysterious companion, a large, quiet man named Shunderson. Because Elwell is busy, Praetorius substitutes for him in his anatomy class, where a lovely young woman, Deborah Higgins, faints during the lecture. Praetorius, then goes to his clinic, where he reprimands a lax nurse, telling her that patients are sick people, not inmates. The last patient of the day is Deborah, and her tests indicate that she is pregnant. Deborah is devastated and confides in Praetorius that she is not married, and is pregnant by a boyfriend who was killed in military service overseas. Praetorius advises Deborah to seek help from her father, and although Deborah states that he is an understanding man, she insists that she cannot burden him with her mistake. Praetorius then wonders if Deborah had hoped he would terminate the pregnancy, but Deborah asserts that she would not buy her father's peace of mind at the cost of Praetorius', then leaves. While Praetorius ponders the dilemma, he hears a gunshot in the hallway, and rushes out to find that Deborah has shot herself. Her wound is not life-threatening, however, and Praetorius saves her with a simple surgery. Shunderson, Praetorius' confidante in all matters, predicts that Deborah will attempt suicide again, and later, when Deborah awakens, Praetorius lies, telling her that the test was incorrect and that she is not pregnant. Deborah, who has fallen in love with the handsome, compassionate doctor, is embarrassed about the revelation of her pre-marital sex, and leaves the clinic that night. Meanwhile, Praetorius discusses the situation with his friend, Professor Lionel Barker, a scientist, who warns him that Elwell is trying to bring charges of unsuitability against him before the university's faculty committee. Praetorius dismisses Barker's concerns, and a few days later, drives with Shunderson to the farm where Deborah lives with her father Arthur and his penny-pinching brother John. Although Praetorius intends to tell Arthur about Deborah's pregnancy, Arthur's wry remark that he has been a failure in life and is now dependent upon John's reluctant charity prevents Praetorius from revealing the truth. When Deborah and Praetorius are alone, she admits her love for him, then teases the doctor into revealing that he reciprocates her affections. Surprised and delighted by his feelings, Praetorius insists that Deborah immediately leave with him to be married in New York. While the couple are in New York, Elwell receives word from Coonan, a private detective, that in 1917, Shunderson was put on trial for murder. Soon after, Shunderson tells Praetorius that Coonan took a photograph of him, and offers to leave so that the doctor's career and new marriage will not be endangered. Praetorius refuses to accept his friend's sacrifice, then returns home, where he, Arthur and Lionel play with the toy train set that Deborah has given him for his birthday. While the men play, Elwell comes to the house and informs Deborah that Praetorius is going to be charged with practicing medicine in an illicit manner. Deborah coolly shows Elwell the door, then questions her husband, who assures her that he is innocent. Deborah, who admits to being very emotional recently, then wonders if she could be pregnant, even though they have only been married for two weeks. Praetorius then reveals that she has been pregnant all along. Deborah is horrified and believes that Praetorius married her out of pity, but he convinces her that he loves both her and the coming baby. Later, on the night that Praetorius is to conduct the student orchestra's concert, Elwell succeeds in convening a faculty hearing to interrogate him. While Deborah and Shunderson wait with the impatient audience, Praetorius admits to the committee that he worked in Sarah's village as a butcher, while practicing medicine on the side, because the country folk distrusted "book doctors." Although Elwell accuses Praetorius of lying to the people he helped, the doctor defends himself by saying that he merely enhanced their own faith in themselves. When Elwell questions him about Shunderson, Praetorius refuses to answer, but Shunderson enters the room and volunteers to tell his story. Shunderson then states that many years earlier, he killed a friend who had an affair with Shunderson's sweetheart and then framed him for murder. After Shunderson was unjustly hanged for the crime, his body was given to Praetorius, then a medical student studying anatomy. Shunderson was not dead, however, and after Praetorius revived him, the older man dedicated his life to serving the man who had saved him. Dean Lyman Brockwell then dismisses Elwell's charges as nonsense, and Praetorius begins the concert. As Deborah happily watches her husband, she feels her baby kick and smiles in delight.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
William Dyer Jr.
Pal, A Dog
George W. Davis
W. D. Flick
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Dr. Ben Sacks
Walter M. Scott
Darryl F. Zanuck
People Will Talk
Based on a 1934 play by German writer-director Curt Goetz, People Will Talk stars Cary Grant as an eminent physician at a university medical school, Noah Praetorius, whose holistic medical philosophy is to treat the whole patient, mind as well as body. Mankiewicz, who had studied pre-med at Columbia University, had wanted to be a psychiatrist, and remained interested in medicine all his life. He decided to adapt the Goetz play after he had a negative experience in a hospital emergency room, and reshaped the screenplay to include his own ideas about medicine. In People Will Talk, Praetorius's belief in the mind-body connection of healing discomfits some of his more conventional colleagues, including Elwell, played by Hume Cronyn, who is actively looking for ways to discredit the popular Praetorius. One of Praetorius's patients is Deborah (Jeanne Crain), a young woman who tries to commit suicide when she finds out she is pregnant out of wedlock. The two fall in love, but the doctor must defend himself against charges of illicit practice of medicine before the university's board. A plot summary doesn't begin to describe the quirky charm, startlingly modern take on medical practices, and intellectual substance of People Will Talk, which Richard Brody described in a 2010 New Yorker blog as "a romance filled with comedy that ranges from the blithe to the angrily satirical -- yet it's one of the most aesthetically sophisticated movies ever to emerge from the high-studio era."
It's tempting to see People Will Talk, made during the McCarthy era when there was pressure on Hollywood to conform to "American values," as a commentary on the real-life House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. And indeed, some film historians have made that assumption. But the hearing at the climax of the film was in the original play, and Mankiewicz dismissed such a connection, and claimed he was apolitical. Yet while he was writing the screenplay for People Will Talk, Mankiewicz himself became a target of the anti-Communist hysteria in Hollywood. Serving as president of the Screen Directors Guild, he opposed forcing Guild members to sign a loyalty oath as a condition of membership and called for a membership meeting to discuss it. Rabid anti-Communist and Guild board member Cecil B. DeMille tried to gather support to oust Mankiewicz, but board members backed Mankiewicz's stand, and it was DeMille who was forced to resign.
Still, making People Will Talk was not without problems. Given subject matters such as unwed motherhood and suicide, the film inevitably faced censorship issues. Joseph Breen, the head of the Production Code Administration said the story was unacceptable because of the light treatment of "illegitimacy and illicit sex," and that the ending seemed "to indicate a definitely immoral act." After a revision, Breen asked for "a further strengthening of the voice for morality." The script was eventually approved, and although Breen had insisted that no reference be made to abortion in the finished film, Praetorius and Deborah discuss it frankly without ever using the "a" word.
Part of the reason Mankiewicz could get away with bending the rules was that "He had a highly developed skill for working within the confines of the studio system, and that included the Breen Office," according to Cheryl Bray Lower in the book Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Critical Essays (2001). "He learned early in his career not to belabor trivialities with Code administrators unless he was confident that he would win his point." The director was also negotiating from a position of strength: he had not only made two of the most popular and honored films of the past two years, he also had chosen one of the most popular and likeable stars in Hollywood to play the unconventional doctor. "Grant's onscreen persona was so positive that [producer Darryl F.] Zanuck and Mankiewicz believed he would lend an air of moral uprightness to a screenplay that, at its outset, violated the Code in a number of ways."
In spite of having been nominated for an Oscar® for Pinky (1949), and co-starring in A Letter to Three Wives, Jeanne Crain had to campaign for the role of Deborah. In fact, Zanuck and Mankiewicz originally rejected her and chose Anne Baxter for the part. But Baxter had to bow out because of pregnancy, and Crain was cast.
The marketing for People Will Talk downplayed the film's controversial nature by selling it as a faintly suggestive Cary Grant romantic comedy. The poster for the film showed the stars reclining cozily on a bed, and the tagline read, "The Picture That Takes a New Look at Life!" But the critics made it clear that there was nothing conventional about People Will Talk. Both stars, as well as the rest of the cast and the writer-director, received excellent reviews. "Grant...turns in one of the most intelligent performances of his nineteen-year Hollywood career," according to Newsweek. "And Miss Crain proves, as she did in Pinky, that she is ready to graduate from her usual pigtail roles. Much of the credit for an impressive film goes to the very adult and literate writing of Mankiewicz." Anne Helming of the Hollywood Citizen-News agreed: "Cary Grant is excellent as Praetorius, making his strange, noble, unpompous individual a warm, believable human being. Jeanne Crain is more skillful than usual as the girl, and supporting actors Hume Cronyn, Sidney Blackmer, and Finlay Currie, are uncommonly good, proving not only that they are capable actors, but that Mankiewicz the director is as outstanding as Mankiewicz the writer."
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the play Doctor Med. Hiob Prätorius, Facharzt für Chirugie und Frauenleiden by Curt Goetz
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Editor: Barbara McLean
Costume Design: Charles Le Maire
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, George W. Davis
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Cary Grant (Dr. Noah Praetorius), Jeanne Crain (Deborah Higgins), Finlay Currie (Shunderson), Hume Cronyn (Professor Rodney Elwell), Walter Slezak ((Professor Lionel Barker), Sidney Blackmer (Arthur Higgins), Basil Ruysdael (Dean Lyman Brockwell), Katherine Locke (Miss James), Will Wright (John Higgins), Margaret Hamilton (Sarah Pickett).
by Margarita Landazuri
People Will Talk
How old were you when you learned to walk?- Doctor Noah Praetorius
I could get around alright at four.- Arthur Higgins
And how old were you when you left the farm?- Doctor Noah Praetorius
Sixteen.- Arthur Higgins
Surely it didn't take you twelve years to make up your mind!- Doctor Noah Praetorius
Professor Elwell, you are the only man I know who can say 'malignant' the way other people say 'Bingo!'.- Doctor Noah Praetorius
I consider faith properly injected into a patient as effective in maintaining life as Adrenaline, and a belief in miracles has been the difference between living and dying as often as any surgeon's scalpel.- Doctor Noah Praetorius
Elwell, you can use more words more unpleasantly than any irritating little pipsqueak I've ever known!- Professor Barker
Professor Elwell, you're a little man. It's not that you're short. You're...little, in the mind and in the heart. Tonight, you tried to make a man little whose boots you couldn't touch if you stood on tiptoe on top of the highest mountain in the world. And as it turned out...you're even littler than you were before.- Shunderson
The working titles of this film were Dr. Praetorius, The Doctor's Diary and The Dr. Praetorius Story. After the opening credits of the film, several title cards read, "This will be part of the story of Noah Praetorius, M.D. That is not his real name, of course....There May be some who will claim to have identified Dr. Pratorius at once. There May be some who will reject the possibility that such a doctor lives, or could have lived. And there May be some who will hope that if he hasn't, or doesn't, he most certainly should....Our story is also-always with high regard-about Medicine and the Medical Profession. Respectfully, therefore, with humble gratitude, this film is dedicated to one who has inspired man's unending battle against Death, and without whom that battle is never won....the patient."
Contemporary sources indicate that both Columbia and actor Joseph Schildkraut had expressed interest in obtaining the rights to Curt Goetz's successful play in the early 1940s. The play was later used as the basis for the 1950 German film Frauenarzt Dr. Prätorius, which was directed by Goetz and starred himself and his wife, Valerie von Martens. In October 1950, the purchase of both Goetz's play and film was completed, according to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library. The terms of the purchase included a stipulation that Goetz's film could be shown in only twelve American cities, six months after the release of the Fox picture. Although a November 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Goetz would serve as a technical advisor on the Fox film, studio records indicate that he was not involved in the production.
In February 1951, Los Angeles Examiner reported that Anne Baxter would be Cary Grant's co-star in the movie, and modern sources note that Baxter had to withdraw from the film due to her pregnancy. Although a April 19, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item includes Hans Moebus, Larry Williams and Wallace Dean in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Studio publicity noted that Grant studied under Dr. Ben Sacks, a noted heart specialist and diagnostician, for two months before production began, and that Alexander Steinert taught him how to conduct an orchestra right-handed, even though Grant was left-handed. Studio publicity also announced that the USC College of Medicine provided the production with props, including skeletons. A May 7, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that "atmosphere shots" were filmed by a second-unit crew at Princeton University. Although some contemporary and modern sources refer to "Deborah" as a medical student, in the film, she states that she was merely sitting in on the anatomy class.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen informed the studio that a December 1950 treatment of the story was unacceptable under the Production Code. Breen cited the discussion about abortion and the light treatment of "illegitimicay and illicit sex" as the main reasons for his disapproval, and also noted that the ending of the picture seemed "to indicate a glorifying of a definitely immoral act." In late February 1951, Breen reported that the script was still unacceptable, noting that it needed a "further strengthening of the voice for morality." Breen urged the studio to have "Praetorius" state strongly that what "Deborah" had done was wrong: "The point we are trying to achieve here is to have Praetorius voice a proper moral attitude without being stuffy or priggish-to recognize the fact that being the mother of a bastard child is a highly undesirable eventuality and not something to dismiss with a casual nod in the direction of good manners." The script was approved in March 1951, and although Breen had insisted that no reference at all be made to abortion, Praetorius and Deborah do discuss the subject without actually using the word "abortion."
In conjunction with publicity for the film's release, Grant put his hand-and footprints in the forecourt of Graumann's Chinese Theatre on July 16, 1951. An "invitational preview" of the picture was held at the Chinese Theatre on July 19, 1951. According to June 1953 Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items, Goetz and Twentieth Century-Fox were sued for plagiarism by Aaron Hirsch, who claimed that the play and film were a "deliberate piracy" of his 1914 story "The Miracle Healer." The disposition of the suit is not known. Grant and Jeanne Crain reprised their roles for a January 25, 1954 broadcast of the story on Lux Radio Theatre. Goetz's play was also the basis of a 1964 German film entitled Dr. med. Hiob Prätorius, which starred Heinz Rühmann and Liselotte Pulver, and was directed by Kurt Hoffman.