Thursday, August 8, 2013

"People Will Talk"...about Cary Grant

People Will Talk (1951) is rarely included in the discussions about Cary Grant's best films. That's puzzling given its pedigree and entertainment value. Perhaps, it's because Grant's career was in a minor lull in the early 1950s with films like Crisis (1950) and Room for One More (1952). It certainly doesn't help that People Will Talk is shown on television less frequently than other Cary Grant pictures. Whatever the reasons for its near anonymity, People Will Talk deserves its day in the spotlight.

Grant plays noble physician Dr. Noah Praetorius, who runs a clinic for women and teaches at a university. Praetorius' patient-first philosophy ("Patients are sick people--not inmates") earns him a reputation for being unconventional. It also makes him hugely popular among his patients and students as well as financially successful. That leads to some professional jealously, principally on the part of rival professor Rodney Elwell (Hume Cronyn). Of course, Praetorius doesn't hold Elwell in high regard either, describing him as the "only person I know who can say 'malignant' like other people say bingo."

Grant and Jeanne Crain.
While Elwell delves into his colleague's murky past to look for a flaw, Praetorius beomes involved in the case of an unmarried pregnant woman named Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain). Concerned with her emotional state, Praetorius first lies to her about her pregnancy. Later, he visits her at her uncle's home and proposes marriage. I did say he was an unconventional doctor, didn't I?

In the hands of a less gifted actor, Praetorius could have come off as an oddball. Cary Grant, though, imbues the physician with nobility, charm, and compassion. He also always seems in control, as if Praetorius  knows what is coming next  and is already prepared for it (at one point, Deborah even calls him a "pompous know-it-all"). At times, Grant's performance reminded me of Dudley the angel from the earlier The Bishop's Wife.

Finlay Currie as Shunderson.
The standout among the supporting cast is Finlay Currie as Shunderson, Praetorius' imposing and often-silent chauffeur and companion. Praetorius introduces Shunderson simply as his friend, not an employee. The mysterious Shunderson lurks in the background throughout the film, his personality revealed gradually as we see his admiration for Praetorius, his concern for Deborah, and his kindness toward an unhappy collie. Although Scottish actor Finlay Currie was 53 before he made his first film in 1931, he had a long screen career that extended into the late 1960s. He is best remembered as the convict Magwitch in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946), as Peter in Quo Vadis (1951), and, of course, as Shunderson.

Hume Cronym as Elwell.
People Will Talk was writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's immediate follow-up to All About Eve. Mankiewicz based his screenplay on a 1932 stage play by German playwright Curt GoetzInterestingly, some critics view People Will Talk as an attack against the Communist "witch hunters" of the McCarthyism era. The timing certainly seems right and Elwell's obsession to dig up dirt on Praetorius could be described as a witch hunt. However, the subplot involving a jealous rival can be traced back to Goetz's original play. I think Mankiewicz's goal was to make a statement about the importance of compassion and human dignity in medicine. After all, in his opening prologue, he states: "This film is dedicated to one who has inspired man's unending battle against Death, and without whom that battle is never won....the patient."

Prior to starting the film, Mankiewicz encountered difficulties with the Production Code, which refused to approve the script because of its frank discussion about abortion and unwed pregnancy (as well as an incident in Shunderson's past). Mankiewicz eventually gained approval in 1951 after minor rewrites (e.g., Praetorius and Deborah discuss abortion, but the word "abortion" is never used).

If you have never seen People Will Talk, I strongly recommend seeking it out. It's an interesting, entertaining drama that deserves serious consideration when discussing its star's best movies.


  1. I enjoy that movie a lot. Shunderson really steals the show near the end. The scene with the trains is also one that very much stands out in my mind. I'm kind of surprised it's considered a relatively obscure film in Grant's oeuvre.

  2. I only saw the film once when I was a kid and knew that most of it was going over my head. Thanks for reviving my interest. I'll certainly seek it out shortly.

  3. Excellent, underrated film by Mank and Grant. I put it up there with All About Eve and A Letter to Three Wives. All three are filled with brilliant, intelligent dialogue.

  4. Good job encouraging people to check out this wonderful film, which is one of my dad's favorite Cary Grant movies. Finlay Currie really is a treat, and don't forget Margaret Hamilton in another of her uncredited but memorable cameo roles!

  5. "People Will Talk" is a fascinating film that explores unconventional medicine and the way it brings together characters. I really like Shunderson and his relationship with Dr. Praetorius is intriguing. Cary Grant and Finlay Currie are excellent in their roles. I am delighted you chose to review this film and hopefully encourage others to seek it out. Well done, Rick!

  6. I've never seen this one, but it sounds terrific! Thanks for introducing me to another Cary Grant film.

  7. I have always believed that this movie has one of Cary Grant's finest performances, and it is a mystery that it is so obscure. It's my opinion that the title is part of the problem. People Will Talk as a title has the sound of a screwball, silly little comedy, and it is anything but. It is literate, moving, funny -- very hard to classify. The climactic scene with Praetorius making his case for Mr. Shunderson is a really shining piece of acting and writing. It is being shown on Netflix, and anyone who is able to catch this gem has a real movie experience in store. Great job spotlighting this fine film, Rick.

  8. It's a terrific film, and I agree with you that it's an overlooked one, which is so odd considering the stars and who made it. Thanks for spotlighting this one.

  9. As you note, Rich, this one is rarely aired. I have seen it, but not recently and probably not more than once or twice. It's interesting how the films of actors in their slump periods, even stars of Cary Grant's magnitude, tend to be overlooked. Of course, so many of CG's most high profile films are fairly glamorous and/or madcap. By the way, I didn't realize this was Joseph Mankiewicz's follow-up to All About Eve.

  10. This is probably one of my favorite Cary Grant films, although to be honest my list of favorites is admittedly long. It's more low key than some of Grant's more well known movies, but it has some wonderful acting by a great cast and is probably one of his most endearing roles.

    On a side note, Noah Praetorius is one of my favorite oddball character names, although my all time favorite has to be Atterbury Dodd from "Stand-In."

  11. I never knew there are other people who love People Will Talk. I love that movie so much. Not just because of Cary Grant. Or maybe because I still have that idealistic view. But I believe that there are still people like Dr. Praetorius.