The Whole Town's Talking
The Whole Town’s Talking is a screwball comedy about a law-abiding man (played by Edward G Robinson) who happens to be the doppelganger of Public Enemy No. 1, ‘Killer’ Mannion.
The first disc found in Indicator’s John Ford at Columbia box set presents The Whole Town’s Talking on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a brand new 4K restoration performed by Sony. Though the notes don’t state the source print I’m venturing a guess it’s from the original negative.
Though not one of Ford’s better recognized films that hasn’t stopped Sony or Indicator from putting everything they can into this presentation. The clean-up itself is amazing, it appearing that every blemish and mark has been removed (I was hard-pressed to really spot anything). The only spotty moments have to do with some of the twin-effect work. While the split-screen stuff is pretty flawless, there are moments where it’s obvious rear-projection has been used and it’s during these moments where the film itself looks off, but this is of course a byproduct from filming and nothing could be done.
As to the digital presentation I can’t fault it. The image is sharp and clean, detail levels are high, the image never goes soft (outside of those scenes using rear-projection), and the fine details pop. Even fine cross-hatching patterns on jackets are razor-sharp. Film-grain is also rendered incredibly well, look natural and never noisy, and contrast and grayscale look incredible. It’s encoded beautifully. This is yet another case where I wasn’t holding high expectations for a release but does this ever look incredible.
(Unfortunately, unlike previous Sony titles released by Indicator, this title, and every title in the set, is region locked to Region B. North American viewers will require Blu-ray players that can play back region B content.)
The film comes with a lossless PCM mono soundtrack. Dialogue is clear, if monotone, and the track doesn’t show any severe signs of damage. But there can still be a tinny edge to it, and I found the music could be harsh. It’s more than likely a product of its age.
Indicator’s Ford at Columbia set presents four of the director’s films on four separate discs and each disc has its own set of supplements. This title starts off with a new 6-minute video essay, Cymbaline, by Tag Gallagher. I usually like his video essays, enjoying his examination of framing, movements, and more, but for whatever reason this one wasn’t clicking with me. The essay is similar to his others, made up of clips from the film that get freezeframed at moments to highlight visual cues, explaining how all of this builds up the world in the film and how the characters relate to it, so on, and so forth. It’s all well and good but I just didn’t find any real significance to the analysis, which is fine as usual, but it could just come down to me not giving the film the same credit Gallagher obviously does, even though I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying the film in the end.
A short 6-minute archival interview with Leonard Maltin has also been included here. I know Maltin can be iffy for people, but he does have a passion for classic Hollywood and that serves him well here as he offers a rather enthusiastic defense of the film, explaining how Ford still shows through and praises the effect work and Edward G. Robinson’s double role, where he creates two very distinct characters. It’s not super in-depth (the TCM logos in the background suggest this was made for an airing of the film on the station or something to that effect) but I enjoyed it no less.
The next two new interviews offer more substance, though. The 22-minute interview featuring Sheldon Hall offers a lot of background around how Ford came to work at Columbia and how he came to make The Whole Town’s Talking, getting a bit into Robinson’s performance and the film’s effects while offering his own defense. Another interview, this one featuring Pamela Hutchinson, focuses on Jean Arthur, her career and hos this film played a part in it taking off. It runs 18-minutes and is very thorough look at the actress.
The disc also features the 52-minute Lux Radio adaptation of the film, featuring Jim and Marian Jordan in the primary parts. The general plotline is the same (shortened and modified for the not-at-all-visual medium) but there are a few interesting changes right off the bat: Jim and Marian’s characters are already together (keeping it secret from work), they work at a plumbing company, and the reason for the main character arriving to work late differs from the film’s, though I suspect this was all done just to get the story moving along. There are other differences along the way as well. I always get a kick out of these, with half the fun being in how the adaptations are done.
Indicator then includes a short image gallery featuring production stills, posters, and lobby cards. Each title in the set also gets their own booklet and this film receives its own 35-page one. Farran Smith Nehme starts things off with an excellent essay on the film, starting off with how hard it was to come by prior to this release (though she doesn’t mention the Twilight Time release), before getting into its strong elements and performances. This is then followed by an excerpt from W.R. Burnett’s Jail Breaker, which served as the inspiration for the film. Though only an excerpt, as the intro points out, it’s far more serious and dark (cynical is the word the notes use) in comparison to the lighter tone of the film (until the last act anyways). Following that is an excerpt from Edward G. Robinson’s autobiography (with some notes inserted by Indicator) where he covers the film and even bad mouths Columbia head Harry Cohn. The booklet then closes off with excerpts from some of the critical reactions from the time of its initial release and from screenings through the years. As usual, Indicator’s booklet adds an incredible amount of value and depth to the release.
Not the most stacked disc in the set in relation to supplements (a couple of titles include commentaries) but Indicator has loaded on some great material.
It’s a great way to start the set, with this title providing some engaging supplements and an incredible looking presentation that far exceeded anything I was prepared for.