People Will Talk (1951)
People Will Talk (1951)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: August 29th, 1951 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Actors: Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, Hume Cronyn, Walter Slezak, Sidney Blackmer, Basil Ruysdael

 


 

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arah Pickett (the very recognizable Margaret Hamilton), the former housekeeper of Dr. Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) in Goose Creek, goes to see Professor Rodney Elwell (Hume Cronyn, always a decent villain) to discuss sordid details of the now famous M.D., whom she wishes to discredit. During their conversation, Elwell brings up the name Shunderson (Finlay Currie), which makes Pickett quite nervous. Meanwhile, down the hall, Praetorius himself begins a lecture on the pending dissection of a fresh cadaver – that of a beautiful young woman. The sight of the anatomical subject is enough to cause medical student Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain) to faint.

When he’s not teaching, Praetorius runs a clinic, which he insists upon overseeing with attention to the patients above economical considerations; money is never his primary concern. He also has an exceptional bedside manner, calming and charming the sick – even out of the depression of looming death. When Deborah returns to Praetorius to hear the results of her exam, she’s horrified to discover that her fainting spell was not caused by a dead body – but by a pregnancy. Her husband isn’t in the picture anymore, which puts Deborah in a sticky situation; her elderly father wouldn’t approve, she’s concerned about the baby’s upbringing, and her reputation will be at stake. Just outside the doctor’s office, Deborah attempts suicide, shooting herself near the heart, but, thanks to a lack of understanding about anatomy, creates little more than a superficial flesh wound.

The subject matter of a single mother is, of course, potent only in the context of the time period in which this film was released. Its relevancy continues to decrease with shifts in social mores. What is timeless, however, is the wholesomeness of Praetorius’ character – a man who always seems to do and say the right things. His optimism and bright personality are aided by the film’s sense of humor, which crafts plenty of scenes to build upon his decency and his charisma. Interestingly, Noah’s conduct isn’t always by-the-books, especially when he begins to fall for Deborah. Several of his choices involving the relaying of information even come across as tremendously disagreeable. The themes here are something of a more realistic, serious version of “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” which also dealt with a soon-to-be-mother lacking a proper husband.

Oddly, the film is also a mystery, largely pertaining to the good doctor’s constant companion – the so-called “dull-witted” Mr. Henry Shunderson. For much of the running time, Shunderson acts as something of a butler, bodyguard, and advisor, quietly but ominously shadowing Praetorius everywhere, from the hospital to random personal errands. Noah also has a virtually unknown past, which Elwell hopes is full of debauchery and scandalous things. Tied to the picture’s identity, of course, is the respectable notions of ’50s romantic comedy storytelling, which dictate a certain innocence about the uncovering of potentially shady affairs. Still, the plights of the various characters (including Deborah’s father, Arthur [Sidney Blackmer]) are unusually mature.

With Noah’s unflappable calmness and worldliness (and, later, a childishness) clashing with Deborah’s fiery demeanor, the love story is also diverting. They’re an obvious match from the start, even if it takes awhile for them to stop fighting with one another. And, in typical Hollywood fashion, the romance is of the whirlwind fashion. Its expeditiousness isn’t entirely based on love, as there’s an underlying noble cause – the kind that would surely play out with greater fury and fear and unforgivable betrayal if it were recreated with modernity.

Despite the diminishing likelihood of a believable happy ending, there’s an impressive authenticity to the leads’ relationship, thanks chiefly to their performances – since the writing isn’t convincing on its own. The finale, which shifts into the lengthy hysterics of an informal trial (as if to match the overlong, printed ramble at the start, which dedicates the film to patients), eventually reveals the fantastical yet absorbing details of Shunderson’s involvement. Its purpose, delightfully, is not only to give the title a relevance to Praetorius’ career – as well as to Deborah’s possible disgrace – but also to reenforce the notions of generosity, happiness, and the indefatigable qualities of the human spirit.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10