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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Tales of Manhattan (1942)



Reviews and Comments

"Ya ever want me to help you out again, Harry...just...let me know."

A tailcoat is the link that holds this five-vignette frametale together. It's made for Charles Boyer, star of the first story, and then changes hands to others. The first three stories have this film well on its way to a classic status, but the final two let it down.

The first story is a dark short noir about an ugly romantic triangle involving a woman with nebulous loyalties. The acting and cinematography are superb, and the story has a few satisfying surprises. The second is hilarious, featuring Henry Fonda (essentially reprising his role in The Lady Eve to great effect) and Ginger Rogers who, through an uncomfortable misunderstanding, discover glossed-over truth. The dialogue is the standout here, realistically portraying an emotional transformation in record time. The third story is a heartbreaker about Charles Laughton, who plays a kid-like musician who wants to play in an orchestra. Laughton's performance is wonderful, and he's well supported by his real-life wife Elsa Lanchester. It's an unlikely tale, simple perhaps, but undeniable in its impact.

The fourth story is where it starts to go downhill. It stars Edward G. Robinson, a failure who reluctantly attends a college reunion (in the tailcoat). The story isn't so bad, but it's shallow compared to the previous three and much too talky. The fifth, starring Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Ethel Waters, and Paul Robeson, doesn't make much sense or have much purpose and delivers a confused moral message. It does, however, provide a fitting conclusion for the tailcoat's journeys.