Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: People Will Talk

This week’s selection as part of Todd Mason’s ongoing blog series is one that I have wanted to discuss for a while. I am referring to Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s People Will Talk from 1951. The film stars Cary Grant (Dr. Noah Praetorius) a doctor dedicated to a holistic, humanist approach to patient care and Jeanne Crain (as Deborah Higgins) a troubled young woman who finds herself in his care.

Among the supporting players we have Walter Slezak, Dr. Praetorius’ confidant and Hume Cronyn, a fellow physician who finds Praetorius’ methods and popularity among the students very distressing. And finally there is Shunderson (Finlay Currie), the doctor’s right hand man who has a very mysterious past.

What I always found strange about this film is that by all appearances, it posits itself as a romantic comedy (see poster below). However, you do not have to go that deep (just sit down and watch it actually) to see that the film is quite dark; in fact, it deals with a few ideas that I would imagine were taboo at the time – namely suicide and an unplanned pregnancy. Heavy stuff indeed.

As with any Mankiewicz piece, the writing (he is a credited co-writer as well as director) is clever and witty, despite the subject matter.

Have you seen this? Let me know what you think below …



  1. It seems to be an interesting film. I hope to be able to watch that one soon.

  2. Love this film, great choice you made. Actually, I was half thinking on posting abotu it myself in fact. To my way of thinking, it works best in its second half as an allegory on the the McCarthy witchhunts while the first half feels more like a satire on postwar America.
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    • Great minds, eh? In my research I read about Mank using this as a statement about McCarthyism. That totally makes sense now that I think about it.

  3. That poster just cracks me up! This movie looks pretty cute, Iba.
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  4. I may have seen this ages ago but I remember nothing about it. However, I have always loved Finlay Currie. Strange, I know. I am intrigued by your comments though, Iba. Time to add it to the list. I’ll check and see if Netflix has it.
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  5. This is one of my favorite films. The juxtapositions are delightful. Serious subject matter in a romantic comedy. The foils are striking – brother John and Dr. Elwell could be the same person. John has a sterile approach to farming, as Elwell has a sterile approach to medicine. Grant and Sleazak are idealized, but have serious issues with which to deal, not always with a laser like insight. The dialogue is sharp, but accessible from all characters but Elwell, brother John, and Shunderson – this does as much to separate their characters as it does to bind them.

    I see parallels between this film and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Not from the sense of a redemption, but the idea that people have a choice between spirit and letter, both in medicine and in law. The choices are not easy and are not treated as easy. In a sense, I see parallels with the younger daughter in the 1973 film, “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.” Like Deborah and her father, the young daughter of this film accepts that life can be cruel and still choose to go on and fight for the best their life could become. Again, this is the very essence of Hugo’s Les Miserables.

    This is not to say that going on is easy, as Deborah’s suicide attempt shows. It wouldn’t take much at all for this story to become a Shakespearean tragedy. Each character has a flaw that could bring them down, yet it is only the antagonist Elwell who succumbs. Deborah could have done herself real harm, her father could have given up on life, Praetorius’ flaw cold have been one of “pompous know-it-all,” but he does not read his own press.

    I like thinking about this film and listening to great banter with a deeper meaning. It is witty, but means more than a Nick and Nora Charles back and forth. The best comedy always makes you think.
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