Monday, March 18, 2013

Worth Watching: Tales of Manhattan (1942)

Title: Tales of Manhattan
Director: Julien Duvivier
Language: English
Rating: Unrated

Tales of Manhattan is made up of a series of vignettes involving a cursed evening coat. Coming in contact with the coat might bring you misfortune, though in many cases the misfortune reveals an important truth or blessing in disguise.

Each vignette is distinct, with its own storyline and set of characters. They're also uneven in quality. Sometimes Tales of Manhattan is great; other times you wonder what the filmmakers were thinking. But I'm recommending it anyway, because it's packed with wonderful actors who do some strong work with whatever they're given.

First Tale
A temperamental actor (Charles Boyer) isn't sure that the woman he's having an affair with (Rita Hayworth) will leave her loveless marriage. Boyer has a compelling screen presence, and Hayworth is mesmerizing. A lot of the action is set in an eerie hunting lodge where the walls are crowned with the antlers of slain deer.

Rita Hayworth and Charles Boyer in Tales of Manhattan

Second Tale
On the day of her wedding, a young woman (Ginger Rogers) finds evidence that her fiancé (Cesar Romero) is cheating on her. He calls in his best friend (Henry Fonda) to take the fall for it and pass himself off as a lothario.

With the exception of Roland Young playing the butler, the characters here annoyed me, and I probably wouldn't have put up with them for a full-length movie. However, like the other vignettes, this one is about 20 minutes long, and I got a chance to watch Rogers and Fonda work together and build up some beautiful chemistry with weak material in a short span of time. I also got a kick out of seeing Cesar Romero in this role; so far, I've only known him as The Joker from the campy Batman TV show with Adam West.

Third Tale
A middle-aged composer (Charles Laughton) finally gets his big break: a chance to have his music performed by a renowned orchestra.

Laughton gives a moving performance, but the embarrassing situation he has to deal with on his big night, when he's set to introduce his music to the world, feels forced.

Fourth Tale
An out-of-work, alcoholic lawyer and Harvard alum (Edward G. Robinson) makes an effort to turn his life around by showing up to a reunion held for his college class. Surrounded by people who've succeeded professionally, he tries to blend in and pretend he's been doing well too, but an old college rival (George Sanders) threatens to expose him.

At one point, Robinson delivers a long monologue that in the hands of a lesser actor might have dragged, but he's fantastic. I think he gives the best performance in the whole movie.

Edward G. Robinson in Tales of Manhattan

Fifth Tale
This vignette isn't set in Manhattan, but on land farmed by black sharecroppers. Ethel Waters and Paul Robeson star as a wife and husband who come across an unexpected windfall, and Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson plays their reverend. They're all given cringeworthy material to work with and not much of a chance to really show their talents. Robeson, with his wonderfully deep voice, sings a little, but Waters unfortunately doesn't.

*All images link back to their sources (Pinterest and Film Fanatic).