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Tales of Manhattan

Tales of Manhattan(1942)

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teaser Tales of Manhattan (1942)

Versatile and prolific French director Julien Duvivier spent most of the World War II years in the United States and made five American films during that period, among them two anthology films, both released in 1943 and comprised of several shorter stories in a single film, Flesh & Fantasy and Tales of Manhattan. Both of them featured top stars and scripts by renowned writers.

Tales of Manhattan follows several characters who wear a tailcoat cursed by one of the tailors who made it. The first is Charles Boyer as an actor who is the lover of faithless wife Rita Hayworth. Next, the coat sparks a more successful romance between Henry Fonda and Ginger Rogers. In three more stories, the jacket brings surprising luck to composer Charles Laughton; failed lawyer Edward G. Robinson; and sharecropper Paul Robeson.

Sadly, Tales of Manhattan features the last film appearance of the brilliant African American star. Since the late 1920s, Robeson had been a mesmerizing presence onstage and in films, especially in Europe. But at home, recognition and good roles were few and far between, and he became an active participant in the struggle for African-American equality. According to a New York Times article, Robeson announced he was "through with Hollywood until movie magnates found some other way to portray the Negro besides the usual 'plantation hallelujah shouters.'" In his lifetime, unfortunately, that didn't happen.

Bosley Crowther's New York Times review of Tales of Manhattan begins by noting that "the wires have been buzzing excitedly out of Hollywood for several months about a bold and amazing new picture which would break away from standard movie forms." It goes on to describe what apparently had not been seen in a Hollywood movie to date, an omnibus film featuring several unrelated stories written by different people, and starring different actors. According to Crowther, the experiment was a brilliant success: "[It] is one of those rare films--a tricky departure from the norm, which, in spite of its five-ring-circus nature, achieves an impressive effect. Neither profound nor very searching, it nevertheless manages to convey a gentle, detached comprehension of the irony and pity of life, and it constantly grapples one's interest with its run of assorted incidents."

The Variety critic was less enthusiastic: "The expanse of acting and writing talent may have been too much for Julien Duvivier, a fine foreign director, for he comes up with very few original touches in this picture. Some of the sequences he appears to have permitted to go along on their momentum."

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Tales of Manhattan was the first film shown in Paris theaters after the city was liberated by the Allies in October of 1944. After the war, Duvivier returned to France and in the 1950s became one of the well-established directors reviled by the French New Wave filmmakers as proponents of "the cinema of quality," which they rejected as being out of touch with contemporary society.

Director: Julien Duvivier
Producer: Boris Morros, Sam Spiegel (as S.P. Eagle)
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Alan Campbell, Ferenc Molnar, Samuel Hoffenstein, Donald Ogden Stewart, Lamar Trotti, Laszlo Gorog, Laszlo Vadnai
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editor: Robert William Bischoff, Gene Fowler, Jr.
Costume Design: Dolly Tree, Bernard Newman, Gwen Wakeling, Irene
Art Direction: Richard Day, Boris Leven
Music: Sol Kaplan
Principal Cast: Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Cesar Romero
127 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri

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