15 September 2002 | mark.waltz
Double Brown makes double trouble.
Joe E. Brown goes down Edward G. Robinson story in this variation of the milquetoast with crook look-alike. Columbia had filmed this story with EGR in 1935 as "The Whole Town's Talking"; John Ford directed this light-hearted comedy which was written by Frank Capra's associate, Robert Riskin. Five years later, Columbia re-did the story, tailoring the comedy for its new comic on the lot, Joe E. Brown. To say that there is a major difference between both films is an understatement, as it would be to say there is a difference between Brown and Robinson.
As "Whiskers", Brown is a milquetoast writer involved with pretty Frances Robinson. When he decides to shave off his beard and mustache, he starts to be confused with an escaped gangster. The gangster's moll (Vivienne Osborne) has no idea of his true identity and has him brought to her pad when he pretends not to know her. There, Brown manages to escape and tries to return to his girlfriend's, but by this time, dasterdly gangster has taken his place, and is hiding out there from the law.
In "The Whole Town's Talking", EGR successfully played both gangster and mild-mannered clerk because he had already become the definitive screen gangster; Brown fails in this attempt because as much as he had been established as a mild-mannered clerk or athlete or whatever the writers had him doing, being a tough gangster was not his forte no matter how hard he tried. With his rubber-face looks, Joe E. Brown was doomed to comedy parts, and even when he tried to escape from this mold, he still had audiences laughing. Brown's gangster certainly is not the tough guy EGR's was, but as the weaker Whiskers, Brown does what he does best. Frances Robinson is alright as the leading lady, a little more interesting than some of the others Brown was paired with. This time, she has much more to do. Vivienne Osborne, one of the all-time great "bitches" on-screen, is very good as the gangster's moll. Then, there are the stereotypical dumb gangsters, great with a gun, but dim-witted with fast thinking. All of this makes for a rather maudlin comedy, funny in parts, with a few witty lines, but extremely predictable and instantly forgettable. Columbia had better luck with its Charley Chase and Three Stooges two-reelers which had more action in 10-20 minutes than this one does in its 70.