I was sick for a few days this month and had trouble completing a couple of planned blog entries, so I wound up watching a lot of films at home while I recuperated. Three of them star Joseph Cotten because they were all on a tape recorded off TCM on a day they paid tribute to Cotten. Here are notes on five of the films, all watched on VHS tape. I don’t have much in the way of illustrations.
TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942) is one of those anthology films that were in vogue for a while in the 1940s (this may, in fact have been the first), meaning it has several different unrelated stories in it (with different casts and different writers, but all coordinated by one director), with a pretty tenuous connection linking them. In this one, the connection is a used suit coat with tails, required for certain social occasions, that passes from one owner to the next and leads to various complications for each of them. In one story, it’s used to substitute for a playboy’s suit coat which has to be attributed to his best friend so that the playboy gets off the hook when his fiancée finds a love note from the playboy’s secret mistress in the playboy’s actual suit coat. When the fiancée tries to match up the love note with the milquetoast best friend, she suddenly starts to look at the milquetoast with new appreciation and winds up dumping the playboy for him. It’s all completely implausible, but the fact that it’s played by Cesar Romero as the playboy, Henry Fonda as the best friend and Ginger Rogers as the girlfriend makes it quite watchable. The final sequence features Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson and Clarence Muse in a tale of a poor black village in the south, far from Manhattan, which gets the suit coat after it’s dropped from a plane with $40,000 in its pockets. (The previous owner was an armed robber fleeing a caper who pulled off the coat after it has caught fire in the plane.) The story in this segment revolves around attempts to divide up the money among the town’s residents fairly. While it’s great to see these powerful performers all in one place without having to play servants and defer to white actors, there is an awful lot of racial stereotyping in the episode and it proved highly controversial at the time, with Robeson disavowing it and swearing off films for what turned out to be the rest of his career.