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Fox Home Entertainment presents
People Will Talk (1951)

Shunderson: The dog is frightened and unhappy.
Praetorius: He has that in common with most of humanity.

- Finlay Currie, Cary Grant

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: January 12, 2004

Stars: Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, Hume Cronyn, Walter Slezak, Sidney Blackmer
Other Stars: Basil Ruysdael, Katherine Locke, Margaret Hamilton
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:49m:41s
Release Date: January 06, 2004
UPC: 024543102700
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

After his crowning cinematic achievement—the multi-Oscar®-winning, critically lauded, and enormously popular All About Eve—writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz found himself pondering the age-old question, "What do I do for an encore?" With the world at his feet, Mankiewicz had his pick of follow-up properties, which makes his decision to adapt the German stage drama Dr. Praetorius all the more puzzling. Although its title brings to mind a cackling, evil scientist in a Gothic castle played by the likes of Peter Lorre or Vincent Price, Curt Goetz's play is actually a serious study of medical ethics and modern miracles. Mankiewicz reportedly overhauled the original, adding biting social commentary, light comedy, and quirky romance, and intended to call his film version "Doctor's Diary." But 20th Century-Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck renamed it People Will Talk, presumably because he believed the spicy subject matter would spark spirited public debate. Another reason could be related to the gossip and innuendo that figure prominently in the film.

Whatever the rationale, people do, in fact, do an awful lot of talking in People Will Talk, but it's tough to weed through all the oblique language to decipher what—if anything—they're really saying. The highbrow dialogue flaunts a labored air of sophistication, as if Mankiewicz is trying too hard to replicate the peerless repartee of All About Eve. Underneath, there's no real story, just a jumble of fragmented ideas, and Dr. Praetorius himself comes off as a rather pompous, colorless bore. Impossible to believe, considering that Cary Grant plays the part.

People Will Talk is a prime example of the pitfalls of egotism. Pretentious, self-indulgent, unfocused—it's everything Mankiewicz's two previous films, the aforementioned Eve and A Letter to Three Wives, are not. Although in 1951 the movie was a breakthrough of sorts due to its frank and mature treatment of taboo subject matter, it all seems mighty tame a half century later. And since People Will Talk seems to exist for the primary purpose of shocking, cajoling, and provoking a rigid, prudish audience, it doesn't play well today.

Shock number one is the occupation of Dr. Noah Praetorius. Can you name any other 1950s film that features a gynecologist as the main character? How that got past the censors is anyone's guess, but the behavior of the doctor's newest patient, Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain), is even more titillating. It seems good-girl Deborah acquiesced to the sexual desires of her soldier boyfriend on the eve of his departure for Korea. A short time later, she received word of his death, then discovered she was pregnant. (The censors usually punished such moral impurity, but somehow Deborah escaped their wrath.) Noah tries to help her at his way-ahead-of-its-time holistic clinic, but her fragile emotional state puts her at risk for either suicide or an illegal abortion. Meanwhile, Dr. Rodney Elwell (Hume Cronyn), a fellow professor at the university where Noah lectures, is feverishly trying to dig up dirt on his colleague. Elwell believes if he can solve the mystery involving Noah's silent, erstwhile companion Shunderson (Finlay Currie), a scandal will erupt and lead to Noah's dismissal and ruin. Unfortunately, the ultimate revelation isn't nearly as powerful as we're led to believe, making the film's climax a letdown.

The weak ending, most likely, never concerned Mankiewicz. While writing the screenplay, satisfying the audience was probably the furthest thing from his mind; in this instance, Mankiewicz was far more concerned with educating and enlightening his viewers than entertaining them. Consequently, People Will Talk awkwardly waffles between drama and comedy, idiocy and substance, and seems to revel in its own ambiguities. From a production standpoint, the film looks slick and polished, but the classy air only succeeds in heightening the film's superior tone.

I do hand it to Grant for playing Praetorius as written. Although the actor seems rather sedate and detached throughout, he inhabits the character quite well and never resorts to any of his beloved idiosyncrasies when the going gets tough. Noah Praetorius is far from a typical Cary Grant role, and the change is both off-putting and refreshing. Still, the script makes it impossible for us to warm up to his character, and the film suffers as a result. Crain, a popular yet underrated actress who died less than a month ago without receiving due respect, supplies much-needed emotion and tenderness. But it's really the supporting players who add sparkle to this curious, enigmatic amalgam. Cronyn, Currie, Walter Slezak, Sidney Blackmer, and Margaret Hamilton all are given at least one juicy scene, and they play it to the hilt.

Mankiewicz obviously envisioned People Will Talk as a repository for his thoughts and beliefs on a wide variety of subjects—insensitive medical treatment, the Communist witch hunt, intolerance of human frailty, to name a few—but message films require a strong plot to fully succeed, and the didactic People Will Talk lacks the cohesive threads necessary to maintain interest and sell its ideas. Nobody likes to be preached to in a movie theater (or in their living rooms), and after People Will Talk, Mankiewicz wisely stopped using the screen as his pulpit. And for that we are grateful.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Now this is how a black-and-white film should look on DVD. Fox has done a superb job with People Will Talk, offering up a razor sharp, pristine transfer. Images enjoy a wide-ranging gray scale, plenty of contrast, and a high level of detail. Age-related defects have been almost universally cleansed and no evidence of edge enhancement or other digital doctoring could be detected. Whether scenes transpire indoors or out, in natural or artificial light, in afternoon or evening, the transfer meets every challenge with the utmost success. If your mind wanders during the film, just concentrate for a while on the glorious images, which provide their own unique brand of entertainment.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Since "talk" is such a vital element of this film, Mankiewicz employs very little music, none of it original. (Brahms' Academic Festival Overture plays over the opening credits.) Any instrumental accompaniment evolves out of the story, emanating from a radio, phonograph, orchestra rehearsal or concert. As a result, there's a lot of dead air on the simulated stereo soundtrack, but it's clean air, devoid of the annoying imperfections that tend to plague older films. The all-important dialogue, however, remains crisp and clear throughout, and subtle background effects come through nicely, with just the faintest surround feel. An equally satisfactory mono track is also included on the disc.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring An Affair to Remember, I Was A Male War Bride, Kiss Them for Me, Monkey Business
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 53m:08s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still Gallery
Extras Review: A still gallery featuring 12 production photos provides a glimpse of life behind-the-scenes and on location. A couple of shots look as if they were taken at the film's premiere, and three show Grant having his handprints, footprints and signature preserved in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.The film's original trailer (in shabby condition), a teaser, and four trailers for other Grant-Fox collaborations are also included.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

People certainly do a lot of talking in this Joseph L. Mankiewicz misfire, but what they say rarely engages the viewer. Unfortunately, Fox's exceptional transfer can't overcome the film's flimsy plot or pretentious presentation. Those who'd like to peek inside Mankiewicz's brain might find People Will Talk rewarding, but if you're craving a light Cary Grant comedy, look elsewhere.


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