One of the better anthology films, Tales of Manhattan benefits from Julien Duvivier's assured direction, which confidently melds the disparate stories (and their different tones) together in an effortless and surprisingly satisfying manner. There are almost inevitably problems with multi-part films of this sort, and Tales certainly has them, including a tendency to sacrifice characterization to the mechanics of the plot and a "broad stroke" approach to dialogue. This accounts for excessive sentimentality in the Edward G. Robinson sequence, as well as for the fact that the climax on the Charles Laughton sequence comes across as somewhat corny and contrived; it isn't presented with sufficient nuance. On the whole, however, Tales's considerable assets make up for its flaws; chief among the assets, of course, is the all-star cast, many of which turn in especially fine performances. Laughton is particularly fine, employing a vulnerability that he often eschewed, and giving fine shadings to the character, despite the scant screen time allotted him. Robinson is also in fine form, making the most of his big confession scene, as well as his wordless final scene, and Henry Fonda and Ginger Rogers do extremely well with their mutual seduction scene (a scene in which Duvivier lingers obsessively over the sparkle in both actors' eyes.) Paul Robeson creates a toweringly gentle character, and he, Ethel Waters and Eddie Anderson somehow manage to keep the final sequence from crossing the line from folksy to stereotyped. Elegantly appointed, Tales is a delightful bauble for viewers in search of a light divertissement.
by Craig Butler review