"Professor Elwell, you’re a little man…"
Description: Finlay Currie as Mr. Shunderson speaks with Professor Rodney Elwell (Hume Cronyn) who has lodged unfounded charges against Dr. Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) in the motion picture People Will Talk (1951).
Professor Praetorius is a well-liked physician-philosopher who teaches at a medical university, and operates a clinic for women.
As Dr. Praetorius fills in for Professor Elwell who is late to teach his class, he begins to share his thoughts on medicine and the reverence a physician must have with his patients, even if one is dealing with a corpse.
During his impromptu lecture, Debra Higgins (Jean Crain), one of the students in class faints. When she wakes, she is embarrassed but steady enough to continue. Just then Professor Elwell arrives, leaving and Dr. Praetorius departs.
Later that day Debra Higgins makes an appointment to see Dr. Praetorius at his clinic. Debra is ashamed because she is pregnant but has no husband. The father's child was a reservist sent overseas to fight in the Korean War. But he was killed, and now Debra is afraid to deal with the fallout of her condition. When she leave the doctor's office she attempts suicide. Luckily, she survives, but Dr Praetorius is concerned she will try it again and soon after the noble Dr. Praetorius decides to marry the girl, whom he grows to love.
Meanwhile, jealous Professor Elwell has hired a detective to investigate Noah's past, in hopes of discrediting him and forcing him to resign from the university. Elwell dislikes Praetorius's unorthodox medical views, but his main suspicion is a mysterious man named Shunderson who is the faithful and constant companion of Dr. Praetorius.
Elwell suspects Shunderson has a criminal past, and when he get evidence of such activities, he delights in conducting a disciplinary witch hunt to expose alleged dirty deeds.
But Professor Elwell's case falls flat when Mr. Shunderson testifies in the doctor's defense. Yes, he was a criminal, but his explanation of the facts convince all in attendance that Elwell's allegations are unfounded.
|Shunderson:||Where should I begin?|
|Praetorius:||Tell you when you were condemned to death for murder.|
|Shunderson:||The first time?|
|Shunderson:||Well the first time was in Canada in nineteen hundred and seventeen. It was Christmas. It
wasn't a very merry Christmas.
|Praetorius:||Don't editorialize, just tell the facts.|
|Shunderson:||I had a sweetheart and a friend. We were very close the three of us. We went everywhere
together. Well this one time we went mountain climbing. My sweetheart could climb very high so she stayed ed behind a t a hotel while my friend and I went on. We didn't get too far when we started to argue. I don't remember what about, We always argued as friends do. But this time he hit me with a rock. So I hit him with one.
|Praetorius:||Not too much detail.|
|Shunderson:|| Anyway, we had a bloody fight. And he ran away. So I went back to my sweetheart. She was
waiting in the lobby of the hotel. She didn't even say hello. She took one look at the blood on my clothes and saw that I was alone and starred to scream Murderer! Murderer!. That is how I found out that my friend and sweetheart were sweethearts.
|Praetorius:||Who saw to it that you arrested and charged with murder?|
|Shunderson:||Oh my sweetheart of course. Her testimony and the blood on my clothes were enough and I was
found guilty of murdering my friend. And I was condemned to death. But because nobody could produce the corpse of my friend living or dead, my sentence was commuted to 16 years at hard labor.
|Prof. Berwick:||And was the corpse of your friend never found?|
|Shunderson:||I found it myself after I served my full 15 years at hard labor. I found him accidentally. I was walking past a restaurant in Toronto and I happened to look in a window and there was the corpse of my friend sitting at a table eating a bowl of soup. I think it was pea soup.|
|Praetorius:||Immaterial and irrelevant:|
|Shunderson:||Well I went in and spoke to my friend in a very friendly fashion I asked very nicely where he'd been for 15 years and why he never admitted that I didn't kill him. His answer gentlemen was unsatisfactory. So I hit him the face with the bowl of soup. And I hot him with a chair. Somebody called a policeman. The policeman had a club. I took the club away from him and it was with the policemen's club that I finished up with my friend. I tried to explain to the policeman if I was committing a crime, it was a crime that I had already paid the penalty. He arrested me anyway.|
|Others:||You were released, of course.|
|Shunderson:||No, I was tried for his murder again, and sentenced for his death again.|
|Others:||But how could you be tried twice for the murder of the same man?|
|Shunderson:||The prosecutor insisted that this was not the same murder. The first time, no dead body was produced for evidence. The prosecutor was very fair about it. He was willing to admit that my first conviction was miscarriage of justice. Even though the jury made a mistake, I didn't have the right to murder just to correct that mistake. He demanded the death penalty and I was sentenced to death.|
|Others:||But this time you were pardoned.|
|Shunderson:||No, this time they didn't even commute my sentence. You see the fact that I killed my friend with a policeman's club made it a very serious crime.|
|Others:||Then will you tell us Mr. Shunderson, How did you manage to escape?|
|Shunderson:||I didn't escape.|
|Others:||Well what happened to get you out of it?|
|Shunderson:||Nothing. I was executed.|
|Prof. Elwell:||This is absurd!|
|Shunderson:||It was on the morning of the 29th of February nineteen hundred and thirty two. A leap year. It was a gray and rainy morning. The hangman put the noose around my neck. Then we had to wait because some official forget his glasses. They held an umbrella over me so I wouldn't get wet. Then the official's glasses came. He read something. The minster prayed. I closed my eyes and thought of my mother. The floor went out from under me and that was that.|
|Prof. Elwell:||I must object to the fantastic childish assault on our intelligence.|
|Dean:||You be quiet. Then what happened?|
|Shunderson:||The next thing I felt was a finger with a rubber glove on it. It was in my mouth pressing down on my tongue. I bit it and somebody yelled. I opened my eyes and that was the first time I saw Dr. Praetorius. Only he wasn't a doctor then just a medical student.|
|Praetorius:||I think I can make the next part of the story clear to you. At the time all this was happening I was just finishing my studies as a medical student. I was also keeping company, as they say, with a young lady who happened to be the hangman's daughter. Both the hangman and his daughter were generous and sympathetic. The hangman in particular was sympathetic to my desire as a student of anatomy to have a cadaver of my own. Well, knowing that Mr. Shunderson's body would go unclaimed, because certainly no one in this world was more alone than poor Mr. Shunderson was. The hangman managed to send it to me immediately after the hanging along with a sweet note from his daughter. I was delighted, but not for long, for I soon found out that Mr. Shunderson was still alive.|
|Prof. Berwick:||You must have been furious.|
|Praetorius:||He told me his story. We put some cheap pig iron in the cheap wooden coffin that he'd arrived in and had it buried in a charity graveyard. From that day on , he has never left me. And I think it is understandable that from time to time he seems a little confused, and perhaps a little dull witted.|
With the meetng concluded, Dr. Praetorius and the other members depart to attend a scheduled concert to be conducted by Dr. Praetorius himself. Left behind in the conference room, Mr. Shunderson approaches the defeated Elwell, and says:
“Professor Elwell, you're a little man. It’s not that you’re short. You’re little, in the mind and in the heart. Tonight, you tried to make a man little whose boots you couldn’t touch if you stood on tip-toe on top of the highest mountain in the world. And, as it turned out, you’re even littler than you were before.”
Earlier in the film, Dr. Praetorius remarks, “Professor Elwell, you are the only man I know who can say 'malignant' the way other people say 'Bingo!'”
Fellow colleague, Professor Barker (Walter Slezak) says of Elwell, "You can use more words more unpleasantly than any irritating little pipsqueak I've ever known!”
After hearing Shunderson's testimony, Berwick adds, "The trouble with you, Elwell is that you never had a cadaver of your own, much less bit your finger."
Note: In the film For Me and My Gal (1942) Judy Garland as Jo Hayden says, “You’ll never be big time because you’re small time in your heart” to her vaudeville partner, Harry Palmer (Gene Kelly).