Guilty Until Proven Innocent-Cary Grant And Jean Arthur’s The Talk Of The Town
From The Pen Of Sam Lowell
Talk Of The Town, starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Ronald Coleman, 1942
There are a million ways that Hollywood has played the story of those falsely accused of heinous crimes (heinous a word in bad odor these days according to some of my younger associates but nevertheless useful here) from the serious social dramas Warner Brothers put out usually with guys like Paul Henried or Paul Lucak playing the sober somber lead to the film under review, Cary Grant and Jean Arthur’s The Talk Of The Town where it is played with a bit of off-hand humor.
Now if you thought that the title meant we were, following The New Yorker section of the same name, talking about New York City and its doing you would be wrong. We are dealing here strictly with a Podunk town of unknown original where the mills are run, as in usually the case in one mill town, by one guy or family and they have an overweening influence (overweening another word in bad odor but give me a better one and I will substitute gladly) on the life of such towns. In other words they run things from top to bottom where it counts from the mayor, police chief, and justice system all the way down to the average citizen who just happens to be depend on that mill paycheck to keep body and soul together, usually with a family attached.
That premise is what guides this off-beat look at the rule of law in American life in a more innocent, trusting age. See Leopold (played by Cary Grant a very non-Leopold looking guy) a mill worker and political agitator of unknown ideological and organizational views although presumed to be left-wing given the forces at play got set up, got set up big time to take the big step off for committing arson at Mister Mill-owner’s mills (fill in the blank in our town it was the MacAdams Mills before they closed and headed south and thereafter to foreign lands) and incidentally killing a mill foreman. Thus Leopold was headed for a felony murder count and hang him high. But Leopold was innocent, innocent as a babe, well, maybe not quite that innocent but of the murder rap for sure. Rather than see himself swing from some dawn gallows he did what every innocent man would do-he escaped from the pokey, set out to prove one way or the other that he had been framed, framed with a ribbon on it.
Here is where things get dicey, and sets what is essentially another 1940s wartime romantic comedy to keep the wives and girlfriends who populated the theaters then waiting for the other shoe to drop in the muds of Europe or the corals of the Pacific from fretting to death apart from a more sober look at the justice system in small town America in those days. What ensues is a comedy of error involving Nora (played by Jean Arthur), whom Leopold has had a crush on since high school, and a law professor, let’s call him Mike although his persona is not very Mike-like but rather Sir Michael-like, (played by Ronald Coleman) when Leopold, on the lam, winds up at a house that Nora is setting up to rent to Mike. Naturally a law professor can’t ignore having an escaped accused felon around and so through dodges and whatnots Leopold finally see the professor’s rational, legal light. Sees that he has to turn himself in to get a crack at some justice.
Of course along the way there is a dramatic built-up of romantic interest in Nora by both Leopold, who wears his intentions on his sleeves, and the more reserved but equally ardent Mike. Of course as well no way was Mike (or the scriptwriters in a romantic comedy) going let Leopold go to the gallows after he decided to follow the professor’s advice and let justice work its blinded eyes so Mike began to investigate things. Found out through his snooping that the allegedly dead foreman was hiding out in Boston and that the mill-owner had been for his own maniacal reasons the cause of the arson. Justice prevailed. As for the real core of the story line though-who got Nora-well naturally it had to be Leopold since in those days Cary Grand played no second-fiddle to any other guy with the ladies. Mike well he got the boobie prize-an Associate Justice-ship on the United States Supreme Court. See what I mean when I say that it was a more innocent age.