Comedy · Gangster

The Dual Edward Fan Club

edward-robinson-whole-towns-talking-1936
Edward G. Robinson squares off against Edward G. Robinson. Image: thatguywiththeglasses.com

Let us be clear about one thing: We adore Edward G. Robinson‘s acting and we cannot abide anything negative said about his talent.

One reason for our adoration is his performance in the 1935 comedy, The Whole Town’s Talking, where Edward plays two characters: (1) a ruthless gangster who has just escaped from prison; and (2) a submissive office clerk who lives with a canary and a cat. Dual Edward is utterly convincing in both roles.

The plot: A subservient office clerk is arrested by police when he is mistaken for Public Enemy No. 1. Poor Office Edward has a time of it at the police station, trying to convince police he’s not the man they’re looking for. Happily, Office Edward’s supervisor arrives at the station and makes a positive ID.

Unhappily, though, Office Edward becomes a minor celebrity due to his striking resemblance to Gangster Edward. He is given a special “Police Passport” so he won’t be arrested again.

Of course, when Gangster Edward realizes he has a twin – with police protection! – he decides to move into Office Edward’s apartment. Here he can come and go unnoticed with the use of the Police Passport. He’s really living the life now; he sleeps by day and robs banks at night.

Things do not look hopeful for Office Edward, as he is bullied and browbeaten by his unwelcome roommate. However, Office Edward has a powerful ally – his lippy, couldn’t-care-less co-worker (Jean Arthur).

Jean Arthur is delightful in this film, as she always is, but we don’t want her interfering with our Dual Edward gush-a-thon.

As the docile clerk, Office Edward tugs at your heart. He works an adding machine with precise, deliberate motions; he is careful not to intrude in others’ personal space; he speaks hesitantly, with a slight stutter. He is orderly, self-effacing and completely endearing. When police arrest, then release him, he apologizes for causing them “all this trouble”.

But as the malicious criminal, Gangster Edward scares us. When a tipsy Office Edward comes home one evening, he is startled by Gangster Edward, who has broken into his apartment to wait for him. Office Edward stops abruptly, and we do too. Here is the gangster we’ve heard so much about, fresh from prison, seated – almost coiled – in a chair, with a look of I’ll-kill-whoever-I-gotta determination on his face, his eyes practically glinting like sharpened steel. It almost makes your blood run cold.

So convincing is Dual Edward in these roles that you’re persuaded you’re watching twins and not one man. We’re able to enjoy both Office and Gangster Edward at the same time thanks to split screen, a technique developed in the silent era.

The Whole Town’s Talking reminds us why Edward G. Robinson was so famous. Not only was he a superb actor, he knew how important it was to give an audience their money’s worth.

If you haven’t yet seen this film, we plead with you to watch it immediately. You’ll become a lifelong member of the Dual Edward Fan Club.

The Whole Town’s Talking: starring Edward G. Robinson (x2), Jean Arthur, Arthur Hohl. Directed by John Ford. Written by Jo Swerling & Robert Riskin. Columbia Pictures Corp., B&W, 1935, 95 mins.

This post is part of the Dueling Divas Blogathon hosted by the lovely & talented Backlots. Click here to see the other contributions to this event.

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29 thoughts on “The Dual Edward Fan Club

  1. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t seen this film. It’s awful to say it out loud, but now that I have admitted this sad fact freely, I can begin the healing process. I do love Edward G. Robinson and can’t wait to gush over this film as well.

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    1. No no – don’t be embarrassed. I’m almost envious of you, with this great movie-watching experience ahead of you. I wish I could see it again fro the first time.

      Thanks for dropping by…and let the “healing process” begin! 🙂

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  2. Oh how I LOVED this movie….all three times I’ve seen it. Me too R.A., I adore Edward G. Robinson, more and more every time I see him. He is a pleasure to watch. Thank you for posting this, I need to see it again!

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  3. My autistic/developmentally delayed son is a great fan of this film. The rest of the family is grateful for this because when he likes a movie, it goes on a repeat loop that is almost endless and we all agree that you cannot have too much Edward G. Robinson. Although, the way he rewinds Jean Arthur’s interrogation scene leads us to believe he has more than simply an artistic interest in the proceedings.

    I hope those not in the know follow your instructions to check the movie out immediately. You will gain the gratitude of a nation!

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  4. I love Edward G. Robinson in anything, but I watched this film back in October and was really wowed by his dual performance. He pulls off both roles so successfully — a true testament to his talent as an actor, though he is known for one very distinct type of character. Great review!

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  5. Great review! I can’t wait to enter Edward G. Robinson therapy and check this out for myself. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a festive hour or two!

    I’m so impressed by actors who take on dual roles and do it well, it took me a while to get over my scepticism, induced by several very poor attempts at the practice in a couple of very bad 80s sitcoms that shall remain unnamed.

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  6. Totally agree that Robinson is amazing in this – at first he has glasses in one of the roles, but later on you can tell which one he is playing just from his facial expression and his voice. A very unusual film for John Ford, but he did a great job in directing this tender comedy. Also love Jean Arthur in it. Sadly, I think this has only been released on DVD in Spain – it really deserves to be more widely known! Loved your review.

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    1. What?! It’s only on DVD in Spain?! Rip off!

      I agree with you – this is an unusual film for Ford, and you’d think he’d done films like this his whole life. He treats the subject tenderly and coaxes wonderful performances from all actors, even the minor ones. (I love Robinson’s supervisor in this film.)

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  7. I must see this! It sounds like a blast. Edward is such a doll when he is funny and so scary when he’s serious. What an actor! But who will I love more? Office Edward or Gangster Edward? You leave me intrigued

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  8. Ruth, we love Edward G. Robinson whether he’s playing some naughty or nice, but I haven’t yet caught up with it yet, but lookalike Eddies? Scary AND inspired! I simply must get my hands on it after your fun and fascinating review, my friend, as always! By the way, if you’d love to see Our Man Eddie in another dual role, I also recommend THE PRIZE. Here’s the link, if you’re interested:

    http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2011/06/prize-swedish-mayhem.html

    Merry Christmas and any religions you observe, with joy and happiness to you and yours! 😀

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    1. What?! Our Edward was in another dual-role movie? Will check out your review ASAP. This I have to investigate!

      Dor, I think you’d really enjoy “The Whole Town’s Talking”. I think your blog post – and excellent photo captions – would be one of your Top 10.

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  9. We share an admiration for Robinson. When I see his name in the cast, I know I’m in for a treat. I’m surprised that I’ve not seen this one. It has 2 Robinsons, for goodness sake! I’m not surprised to read that his portrayal of the 2 brothers is so convincing that the viewer can lose sight of the fact that he plays both characters. His acting abilities are what set him head and shoulders above so many actors — both then and now. Thanks for giving me another great movie to check out. 🙂

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    1. This is a real treat to watch: the script is witty, the characters are interesting, and you’re really not sure what to expect. PLUS Edward G., who milks both roles for all they’re worth. Really, a movie cannot get much better than that.

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  10. I have now seen over 70 EGRohinson films and have enjoyed them all. He is a special actor who never disappoints the viewer. Here is my list of some my favorite EGR movies.

    My EGR essentials:

    Little Caesar (1931)
    Five Star Final (1931)
    Dark Hazard (1934)
    The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)
    Barbary Coast (1935)
    Bullets or Ballots (1936)
    Kid Galahad (1937)
    The Last Gangster (1937)
    A Slight Case of Murder (1938)
    The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938)
    Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
    Blackmail (1939)
    Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940)
    Brother Orchid (1940)
    A Dispatch from Reuter’s (1940)
    The Sea Wolf (1941)
    Manpower (1941)
    Larceny, Inc. (1942)
    Tales of Manhattan (1942)
    Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944)
    Double Indemnity (1944)
    The Woman in the Window (1945)
    Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
    Scarlet Street (1945)
    The Stranger (1946)
    The Red House (1947)
    All My Sons (1948)
    Key Largo (1948)
    House of Strangers (1949)
    The Violent Men (1955)
    The Ten Commandments (1956)
    A Hole in the Head (1959)
    The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

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    1. John, I will admit to you that there are a few on your list that I haven’t seen. But I completely agree with the ones I have seen – they are definitely essential Robinson films.

      I’m glad that “The Whole Town’s Talking” is so high up on the list. 🙂

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  11. I saw this early on when I was getting into ‘old’ movies (a process that involved ‘renting’ a ‘tape’) and I have to say I hardly remember it, so that’s a great excuse to watch it again. EGR is one of the very best; I never ever tire of watching him in any kind of movie. Merry Christmas to you 🙂 !

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  12. Want to see Eddie G. in another comedic film? Check out “A Hole in the Head.” It’s a Frank Capra film, starring Frank Sinatra and Eleanor Parker. Eddie G. plays Sinatra’s brother, and Thelma Ritter plays Eddie’s wife. Eddie’s dead-pan humor is absolutely hysterical. I know most people think of him in gangster and crime films, but he definitely had a broad range of talent…as you have pointed out in your well-written article.

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