People Will Talk is in this weird gray area between genres. It has humor but it’s not screwy enough to be a screwball. It has drama, but it’s not intense enough to be a full-fledged melodrama. And underlining all this are issues that reflect such areas as the medical industry, the Korean War, and most definitely the witch hunts that were going on in the nation — bleeding into the Hollywood industry.
Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, this is a minor classic about a doctor named Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant), who is under investigation from one of his by-the-book colleagues Dr. Elwell (Hume Cronyn), who dislikes the good doctor’s unorthodox and thoroughly effective approach to his trade. Praetorius by now is a preeminent physician who started his own clinic and also teaches classes at a local med school.
One of these individuals happens to be Mrs. Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain). She is not a student but sits in the lecture because her former partner was a medic. A date with a cadaver proves to be too much for her and she faints. Seems normal enough right? Wrong. After examining her, the Dr. tells her she’s pregnant. The truth comes out that she’s not really married and the father is dead. Her own father would be greatly distressed to learn about her condition, since he cannot provide for her.
That’s where Dr. Praetorious comes into the picture, and he takes great concern in Ms. Higgins condition. He attempts to allay her anxiety by saying she’s not really pregnant, and she runs away from his clinic out of embarrassment, since she is falling in love with him. He goes with his stoic friend Mr. Shunderson to the farm owned by Deborah’s uncle.
Deborah turns out to have a strange mix of aloofness and lovesickness, but when she realizes the Doctor’s true motive for being there (before he even does) she is wholly relieved. They share a passionate kiss and leave the farm behind to get married. Of course, the Doctor still hasn’t told her about the pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the whole storyline culminates with a concert conducted by Praetorious himself, but it just so happens that the hearing to analyze his conduct is happening simultaneously. Some mysterious truths about Mr. Shunderson are given in his own words, and stale Mr. Elwell’s case is dumped. Everything wraps up nicely as you expect with a happy marriage and Grant free to direct the symphony in one last glorious crescendo.
So you see if you really look at this film, there are these two main story arcs. One is a response to McCarthy’s witch hunts, the other an equally subversive love story about a doctor marrying a woman who had a pregnancy out of wedlock. When you put it that way this film seems chock full of controversy, and yet it is all veiled in a palatable comedy-romance. Walter Slezak is a welcomed addition to the cast as the nutty colleague and Hume Cronyn has taken on better roles, but nonetheless, he is always an enjoyable character actor. Obviously, this is a lesser Grant performance, but his pairing with Jeanne Crain is still a fun one.