Title: People Will Talk (1951)

Cary Grant in“People Will Talk” (1951)

People Will Talk

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  • Review
  • TAG : Cary Grant and Finlay Currie in “People Will Talk” (1951)
  • 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.

    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 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."

  • People will Talk (not to be confused with the 1951 romantic comedy/drama film of the same name) was a short lived celebrity debating game show.

    By 1951, after toiling more than 20 years in Hollywood, Joseph L. Mankiewicz was at the top of his creative powers. He had earned back-to-back double Oscars® for writing and directing (1949) and (1950), a feat still unmatched to this day. Both films had in common witty, sophisticated screenplays and a complex flashback structure. But Mankiewicz was no one-trick pony. In between those hits, he had also made the film noir (1949), and (1950), a taut drama about racism that marked the film debut of Sidney Poitier. Mankiewicz's next film, People Will Talk (1951), was also unique, a drama of ideas, leavened with his trademark wit.

    People Will Talk
    Fox Home Entertainment
    1951 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 103 110 min. / Street Date January 6, 2003 / 14.98
    Starring Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, Hume Cronyn, Walter Slezak, Sidney Blackmer, Basil Ruysdael, Katherine Locke, Margaret Hamilton
    Cinematography Milton Krasner
    Art Direction George W. Davis, Lyle Wheeler
    Film Editor Barbara McLean
    Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a play by Curt Goetz
    Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
    Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz



    How many movies had a score by Brahms? 'People Will Talk' features his Academic Festival Overture, which is the only example of cheerful grandeur I can think of in serious music. Mankewicz knew what he was doing, because this is a cheerfully grand movie. While his 'Letter to three wives' and 'All About Eve' are more famous, this one is my favorite.

    For one thing, Cary Grant has never been more attractive, for Dr. Praetorious is a good and humane doctor. "I don't cure illness, I make sick people well." If the notion that a woman bearing a child out of wedlock is a disgrace has gone, the theme of the mediocre witch-hunting the brilliant is timeless.

    The phrase 'beloved character actor' could have been invented for Finlay Currie, but you've got to be able to use it for Walter Slezak - at least in this movie. (See "Lifeboat")

    If you spend two hours with these people, you'll hear some very splendid talk, and you'll feel both warmed and civilized. How many of today's movies do that?

Cary Grant and Jeanne Crain in”People Will Talk” (1951)

Praetorious hasn't anything in common with either group. His only 'flaw' is a cartoonishly strange backstory with no political dimension, and nothing more. You'd think his methods would be investigated by a medical board, not a stupid clod like Elwell. Furthermore, Praetorius is never fazed by Elwell or his accusations, and goes through his inquisition in complete bliss and confidence. His only opponent is one fairly weak individual who fails to turn the law or the college administration or the faculty against him. Blacklist victims, in contrast, faced the uncomprehending vigilantism of an entire country stirred up to root out Commie villains. What is People Will Talk supposed to be about? Is it late advice for how the Hollywood Ten should have acted before the HUAC? Would charm and a big smile have defeated Joe McCarthy?