An actor, Paul Orman, is accidentally told that his new, custom made tail coat has been cursed and it will bring misfortune to all who wear it. As the 4 succeeding wearers of the coat discover, misfortune can often lead to truth.
Charles Boyer ... Paul Orman
Rita Hayworth ... Ethel Halloway
Ginger Rogers ... Diane
Henry Fonda ... George
Charles Laughton ... Charles Smith
Edward G. Robinson ... Avery \'Larry\' L. Browne
Paul Robeson ... Luke
Ethel Waters ... Esther
Eddie \'Rochester\' Anderson ... Rev. Lazarus
Thomas Mitchell ... John Halloway
Eugene Pallette ... Luther
Cesar Romero ... Harry Wilson
Gail Patrick ... Ellen
Roland Young ... Edgar
This movie leads us through a wide range of emotional interests -- good, bad, and indifferent -- all based on the odyssey of a tuxedo coat (or \'tails\') which also seems to carry with it a superstitious jinx of sorts. At the start the first tale runs the gamut of intense romantic intrigue, with a suave Charles Boyer drawn to beautiful Rita Hayworth, and Thomas Mitchell as the husband with a few ulterior motives of his own in mind. I think the cinematography by Joseph Walker is absolutely superb in this episode. Those closeups are priceless.
I was surprised to see the episode with W C Fields in it and checked IMDb to note that this was included in a restored version, which is nice. Fields and his \"liquid edification\" are seldom far apart, and here it appears in the guise of cocoanut milk, with a few additives as you can guess, which he highly recommends for (?) I forget what it was.
Another tale is of Edward G. Robinson who gives an excellent performance as the down-and-outer dressed in the tux for a special gathering of old school chums. It has fine emotional content which I consider the dramatic highlight of the film and gives one much to think about afterwards. I might add here that this movie brings to mind some of Somerset Maugham\'s short stories that are on film as well.
The final Manhattan tale, starring Paul Robeson and Eddie \'Rochester\' Anderson, has dialogue that is both amusing and touching at times. Ethel Waters, the matronly Esther, shows them a firm hand in directing them to do what\'s right. I always like to see Paul Robeson and hear his great voice. His singing ends their episode on a note of what freedom means to so many, and really brings the film to a fine conclusion. Great stuff!
It is a fascinating movie to experience and one of the best of its kind in my opinion.
Tales of Manhattan follows the story of a formal cutaway coat as it passes from owner to owner and the consequences to all that come into possession. The original owner, Charles Boyer, is an actor having an affair with Rita Hayworth and husband Thomas Mitchell finds out about it with some dire consequences for Boyer.
Is it cursed, well the stories of the various owners would range the gamut of circumstances. All the episodes are pretty good quality although if Tales of Manhattan were made today the last one about the southern sharecroppers with Paul Robeson and Ethel Waters and a whole bunch of black players would be done a lot different now.
For years a story with W.C. Fields and Margaret Dumont with Phil Silvers in it was cut from the original release. It\'s now restored to Tales of Manhattan and I\'m not sure why it was done. It\'s a very funny episode in which Fields gets the cutaway to use in delivering a temperance lecture to Margaret Dumont and friends. Ms.Dumont proves to be just as good a foil for Fields as she was for the Brothers Marx. Especially when the coconut milk being served is spiked with some spirits.
Fields, one of the celebrated inebriates of show business, reveled in his identity and that temperance lecture was a routine he did going back to his vaudeville days. We should be thankful it was preserved and restored.
The other comic episode involved Cesar Romero palming off the tails on Henry Fonda who is to be best man at his wedding to Ginger Rogers. He put a love letter from another woman in the pocket and Rogers finds it. Romero has Fonda claim the cutaway was his and the contents thereof. It works only too well.
Edward G. Robinson has a nice episode as a disbarred lawyer living in a mission shelter who uses the cutaway to go to a class reunion where he and his former classmates get a lesson in humility.
The other episode concerns how the tails nearly undid Charles Laughton\'s big break in the music world. Elsa Lanchester who is playing his wife here, buys the tails for her husband who is a piano player in a honky tonk dive. But Laughton is a serious composer and with a certain amount of wile and chutzpah he gets to see an Arturo Toscanini type conductor, Victor Francen. Francen loves Laughton\'s concerto and arranges to have him conduct it.
Sad to say that the cutaway is to small and starts tearing as the composer is conducting. The gales of laughter threaten to steal Laughton\'s big moment, but Francen who was a pretty egocentric character steps up and finishes the concerto and the applause is for him and Laughton.
This particular episode had minimal dialog, but Charles Laughton\'s closeups run the whole gamut of emotions from resignation to triumph to despair and back to triumph again.
The film is from French director Julian Duvivier who was in exile in America while the Nazis occupied his country. It probably could be remade, but formal cutaways just aren\'t worn any more.
This is one of the better multiple story movies from Hollywood, though it demonstrates the limitations of the genre as well as it\'s strengths. At it\'s best, this kind of movie manages to integrate the stories in some way (think of the plot of GRAND HOTEL or DINNER AT EIGHT, where the problems of different groups of characters manage to intertwine in a confined space - another example (though a non-Hollywood film) is the British horror classic DEAD OF NIGHT). Some of the anthology films based on the stories of a particular writer (O\'Henry or Somerset Maugham for instance) don\'t have to blend the stories because of the style of the writer, which unifies the different stories. But then you have a well made film like this one, with a good journeyman director (Jules Duvivier, who had previously done the similar FLESH AND FANTASY), and an all name cast to die for. This is the only film that had Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, Roland Young, Eugene Pallette, Henry Fonda, Ginger Rogers, Cesar Romero, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Victor Francken, Edward G. Robinson, James Gleason, George Sanders, W.C.Fields, Margaret Dumont, Phil Silvers, J. Carroll Naish, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, Eddie Anderson, and Clarence Muse in one picture - even though they were in different stories.
But the running thread is weak. It is the passing of a \"monkey suit\" back and forth from one leading character to another - a pun on \"tales\" and \"tails\" (which is what such an elaborate tuxedo is called). That the actors who get the \"tails\" (Boyer, Romero, Laughton, Robinson, Fields) do not fit the same size clothes does not seem to be taken into consideration. Interestingly, Laughton did lose weight for the role, but he still is burlier than Boyer or Romero. As for the final recipients of the \"tails\" (Naish and Robeson), the former is a crook who wears the suit briefly while pulling off the robbery of a casino, and then uses the suit as a container for the stolen cash, and the latter never cares about the coat, but is mostly concerned with the cash that is dropped down inside it. The \"tails\" end up being used on a scarecrow on Robeson\'s farm.
It is a silly device to use, and the ending (an all African-American episode about how a rural town of African - Americans finds the \"tails\" containing stolen cash (dropped from a plane by J. Carroll Naish). As the characters in the other stories were all whites in the upper classes (even the now impoverished Robinson was once a successful attorney, and Fields is a social climber/ fake lecturer on the dangers of drinking. The Blacks in the film are definitely in the lower classes. What is unique about their segment is that the money that Robeson finds is not kept (as he would have done) by him but split into shares for every Black person in the town - a \"Marxist\" kind of solution that fits with Robeson\'s political views in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Dramatically the two best stories are the ones about Robinson pretending that he is not an impoverished bum, when attending the reunion of his college classmates (one of whom, Sanders, is an old rival who suspects the truth), and the first story about the purchase of the cursed set of \"tails\" by Boyer, and his subsequent discovery of the unworthiness of his lover Hayworth (who is left humiliated with her husband Mitchell). The continental flavor of Boyer\'s sequence may be the portion of the film based on a script of Ferenc Molnar\'s. The Laughton sequence is okay, but nothing to rave about (although the role of Victor Francken as the tempermental symphony conductor - who helps Laughton - is a clone of \"Toscanini\", down to the name of the character - \"ARTURO Belini\". The weakest is the Fonda - Rogers - Romero sequence, which should have been better (and the fine screen attraction of Fonda and Rogers makes one wish that they made a complete film together - tragically this segment was their only film together). The Naish sequence is too brief to be judged well, though Naish does exude menace as a thief.
That leaves the famous \"lost\" sequence of Fields and Margaret Dumont. It really was never fully lost - for many years film societies showing \"Fields\" specialties would show that sequence like a short. But it is not complete as it survives. How did Margaret Dumont get her head stuck in the chandelier that she is wearing? That is not in the final sequence that the video version of the movie includes.
It was their second movie together. Fields own NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK included his romancing Dumont (as the wealthy Mrs. Hemoglobin) despite the rivalry of Leon Erroll. That film was made in 1941, and perhaps Fields suggested reteaming with Dumont. She is a good foil for him, but nothing else (and nobody else) at the lecture is worthy of Fields\' typical shafts of wit. The only other to stand out (at all) in the lecture portion of the sequence is Chester Clute, the alcoholic husband of Dumont, and he does not confront Fields.
But earlier in the sequence is a worthy adversary - in fact the only worthy adversary Fields ever had in a congame confrontation: Phil Silvers. As this was one of Fields last movies, it was one of Silvers first films. Television\'s future \"Sergeant Bilko\" had begun to perfect his style of flim-flam and fast talk, and it is a treat of sorts watching him con Fields into paying for the \"tails\" by putting a fake wad of bills in the coat (so Fields thinks he\'s getting the better of Silvers in the deal). A bit like watching the passing of a crown between champions of their days.
# W.C. Fields appeared in a section of the film that was cut from film that was cut from the final version. It has been restored to the video version. Also in the segment are Margaret Dumont and Phil Silvers.
# Amused by Charles Boyer\'s thick French accent, Rita Hayworth giggled her way through the filming of their love scenes together.