The Whole Town's Talking

The Whole Town's Talking (released in the UK as Passport to Fame) is a 1935 American comedy film starring Edward G. Robinson as a law-abiding man who bears a striking resemblance to a killer, with Jean Arthur as his love interest. It was directed by John Ford from a screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin based on a story by W.R. Burnett originally published in Collier's in August 1932.[1] Burnett was also the author of the source material for Robinson's screen break-through, Little Caesar.[2] The film The Whole Town's Talking (1926) has no story connection to this film. The story was remade in 1998 as the Bollywood film Duplicate.

The Whole Town's Talking
1935 theatrical poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Produced byJohn Ford
Lester Cowan (uncredited)
Screenplay byJo Swerling
Robert Riskin
Based onJail Breaker
Collier's (1932)
by W.R. Burnett
StarringEdward G. Robinson
Jean Arthur
Music byUncredited:
Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Louis Silvers
CinematographyJoseph H. August
Edited byViola Lawrence
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 22, 1935 (1935-02-22)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States


Arthur Ferguson Jones (Edward G. Robinson) and Wilhelmina "Bill" Clark (Jean Arthur) work at the same advertising firm. Jones turns out to look exactly like the notorious bank robber "Killer" Mannion (also Robinson) and is apprehended by the police.

After his true identity is confirmed, the district attorney gives Jones a letter identifying him, so that he can avoid the same trouble in future. Jones becomes a local celebrity and, at the behest of his boss (Paul Harvey), begins ghost-writing Mannion's "autobiography", with good-natured but street-wise Wilhelmina voluntarily acting as his "talent agent" to see that he gets paid.

Mannion decides to take advantage of his mild-mannered doppelgänger and, ultimately, leave Jones "holding the bag" for Mannion's crimes. He kidnaps Wilhelmina, Jones' visiting aunt, and a few others, and takes them back to his hideout. He instructs Jones to make a large deposit for Mannion's mother's benefit at the First National Bank, where police detectives are expecting Mannion to make another robbery attempt. But Jones forgets to bring the check and unwittingly leads the police back to Mannion's hideout.

Upon his arrival, Jones is mistaken for Mannion by the waiting henchmen and quickly realizes that he is meant to be the fall guy. When Mannion returns unexpectedly, Jones orders the men to shoot Mannion. The police arrive in time to capture the rest of the gang. With Mannion dead, Jones collects a reward and takes a long-desired cruise to Shanghai with Wilhelmina.


Cast notes

  • In his autobiography, All My Yesterdays, Edward G. Robinson wrote of Jean Arthur, "She was whimsical without being silly, unique without being nutty, a theatrical personality who was an untheatrical person. She was a delight to work with and to know."[2]
  • Lucille Ball has a small uncredited part as a bank employee, and Francis Ford, director John Ford's older brother, appears as a newspaper reporter at the dock.


The Whole Town's Talking which had the working titles of "Jail Breaker" and "Passport to Fame"[3] was in production from October 24 to December 11, 1934.[4] The film incorporated some footage originally shot for Columbia's 1931 film The Criminal Code.[5]

Columbia Pictures borrowed Edward G. Robinson for this film from Warner Bros. Robinson heard about the transactions through gossip columnist Louella Parsons.[2] At the time Robinson's career was somewhat moribund and the star was tired of playing only gangsters. He was initially opposed to the project but changed his mind after reading the script.[2] In retrospect The Whole Town's Talking has been seen as a turning point for Robinson, reviving his cinematic fortunes.[2][5] Along with 1933's The Little Giant and 1938's A Slight Case of Murder, it was one of the few comedies Robinson made.[6]

W.R. Burnett, who wrote the story that The Whole Town's Talking was based on, also wrote Little Caesar, which was the film that catapulted Robinson to stardom, and High Sierra, the film of which was a significant step for Humphrey Bogart in moving from playing gangsters to romantic lead.[6]


Film critic and historian Jean Mitry said of the film that it is "...wonderfully cut and mounted, supercharged, taut like a spring, it is a work of total perfection in its genre" and Michael Costello of All Movie Guide wrote that "Ford directs and cuts the scenes with uncharacteristic rapidity, seeming to enjoy playing off the meek clerk against the anarchic gangster."[7]


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