Tales of Manhattan

Dir. Julien Duvivier. 1942, 127 mins. 35mm. With Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers. Directed by French filmmaker Julien Duvivier during his WWII Hollywood exile, Tales of Manhattanpresents a series of individual stories linked by a suit that seems to carry bad luck. Unlike many anthology films in which the linking device is little more than a convention, here the exchange of the suit carries an extra charge with its owners cutting across different class and social strata. An amazingly diverse cast fits into the suit as it migrates not only from wearer to wearer but also from genre to genre and through various fashionable situations (theatrical performances, weddings, concerts). Exchanges of the tailcoat allow switches in romantic partners, social status, even as it comes apart at the seams and inspires a shirtsleeve solidarity. If the finale now seems condescending in its portrayal of black stereotypes, Paul Robeson’s passionate articulation of the Popular Front vision of social equality nonetheless has poignant resonance.