The Talk of the Town
George Stevens' The Talk of the Town (1942) is one of the stranger movies to come out of Hollywood during World War II, ranking right up there with The Ox-Bow Incident, even though it's ostensibly a comedy. Actually, it is, but it isn't the kind of comedy that elicits many visible laughs, apart from one side-splitting scene worthy of a French farce about 30 minutes into the film. It's mostly cleverer and more sophisticated than that, a comedy of ideas closer in spirit to the work of George Bernard Shaw than that of Frank Capra, but also as weighty as Capra's best work for Columbia and very rewarding on a romantic level, as well. But before one watches it, they should be prepared -- how many comedies open with an arson, a murder, an indictment, a trial in progress, an escape, and a manhunt? Columbia did well enough with the movie, thanks to a cast led by Cary Grant (in one of his more offbeat roles), Ronald Colman, and Jean Arthur, and it was nominated for Best Picture (as well as Best Screenplay, Best Original Story, Best Score, Best Editing, and Best Interior Decoration), but it never really loomed large in the scheme of wartime comedies, mostly because it is very serious, thoughtful, and demanding -- it's not Abbott and Costello's Buck Privates. The movie works far better today for modern viewers, especially as it's steeped in issues that are still current, about what the law ought to be. Columbia-TriStar Home Video obviously has a lot of faith in the film, as they've put it out in a full-priced edition (as of 2003) on DVD from a digitally restored source. The movie looks splendid for most of its 118 minutes -- far better than the laserdisc version -- and sounds even better with the volume pitched at a decent level, which gives its audience the full-impact of the clever and witty score. The film-to-video transfer is one of the better on a vintage Columbia title from this period in DVD history, with excellent detail throughout and very little in the way of film or digital playback flaws. It's full-frame, of course (1.33:1), as shot, though, for some reason, the video company has added a disclaimer describing this as an "alteration" in the original movie to fit the home screen. The film has been treated well in the programming, with 28 chapters for its two-hour running time. There are no other bonuses, apart from trailers for His Girl Friday and two otherwise utterly unrelated Columbia-TriStar titles. It might have been much more interesting to see how the studio sold, or tried to sell, this movie at the time -- how did they get people in 1942, in the middle of a war, to pay money to see a comedy that includes a lynch mob? The only flaw in the package, other than that omission, is in the final 17 minutes of the movie. Apparently, the final reel wasn't nearly as well-preserved as the rest of it, and we see scratches, grain, and wear. It doesn't mar the viewing experience, though it is noticeable compared to what comes before it.