People Will Talk

Starring Cary Grant and Jeanne Crain, People Will Talk isn’t easy to categorize. It’s not completely a romantic comedy; it’s not a satire; it’s a comedy by default. Cary Grant plays Noah Preatorius, M.D. a suave, yet eccentric doctor and medical professor. He’s the kind of doctor I like, witty and humane. For example, Dr. Praetorius refuses to let the nurses wake all the patients at his clinic (more like a small hospital) for breakfast. They aren’t inmates after all. Let them eat when they want to. Bravo!

The film doesn’t quite fit the typical Hollywood molds, which is so refreshing. I was riveted to see that this 1951 film dealt adroitly dealt with unwanted pregnancy at all. How many romantic comedies do? It was the first I’ve seen of that era that did. The Hays Code, which set a strict list of moral prohibitions for film and television, was still in effect after all.

Dr. Preatorius is finishing a lecture when Deborah Higgins, a young woman who’s auditing the class faints. He tends to her and soon tests show she’s pregnant. Kind Dr. Praetorius and his staff assumed she was Mrs. Higgins, but she trusts Praetorius and confesses that she’s Miss Praetorius and the father is a former boyfriend, she really didn’t know that well. He’s went off to war, the Korean War presumably and she’s stuck. The film handles the situation with sophistication and dignity. Preatorius sympathizes with Deborah, but doesn’t judge her or make her some sort of Mary Magdelene, well, not outright.

Throughout the film, Praetorius is threatened by a petty colleague, Dr. Elwell. A peevish, envious man, Elwell spends every spare minute trying to dig up dirt on Praetorius. Given Preatorius’ odd shadow, Mr. Shanderson, a hulking, taciturn man with a mysterious past, there does seem to be a secret or that Praetorius wants to hide. Why does Praetorius always refuse to explain Mr. Shanderson?

The film is witty and the plot refreshing. I loved that the characters have opinions and make some deft jabs at political issues like agriculture subsidies and the medical profession without getting polemical. It’s done with intelligence and wit.

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