Now I'll Tell ★★½

This is not a great Pre-Code. It's kind of like a proto-version of Walsh's The Roaring Twenties, without the zip of the direction, which is mostly perfunctory. It does have a phenomenal Spencer Tracy performance, who really knows how to play the charming jerk, still lovable when he's even straight up lying to his wife. The biggest difference is that there is actually a good deal of time spent with Alice Faye as the wife, who has a kind of Margaret Sullivan look with quite the mastery of the sympathetic face. Two things are worth noting:

For a film rather lacking in personality, the final scene suddenly felt like the work of someone with an extreme understanding of cinematic language. The lighting was softer, the angles of the camera more pronounced without being showy, and the beats had a Borzage like quality to them. Could this have been the case of someone stepping in to direct that day for the otherwise studio workman screenwriter Edwin J. Burke? (This being his only directing gig). Who knows, but the ending, which felt a bit tacked on already, suddenly came alive with sensitivity and purpose that felt otherwise missing from the picture.

I was struck by a dance sequence (siphoned off from the rest of the movie, likely as preliminary caution for Southern state censorship boards), featuring an African American female dance troupe. Because they were not mentioned in the credits, I began to see if I could search them out. Credits online? None. Historical film newspapers? Nothing. The Academy Archives? Nada. I then thought I found a record in George P. Johnson's Negro Film Collection, an amazing compendium made by an individual who attempted to put together every mention of African Americans in cinema to that point (around 1916), and did so till his death in 1977. One reel of microfilm stored at UCLA was said to mention Now I'll Tell. I went through it, got to the page, only to discover it was a notice of denial by an early form of the production code to make a 2 reel gangster film in the 1920s, likely unrelated to this film. It's likely who this troupe was, what other films they performed in, are impossible to uncover without research that is beyond my current abilities/funding resources (my only lead would be Fox Film Company founder Spyros Skouras, whose archives are at Stanford).

People often ask me what is the work of film history to be done. Here's example A. Without knowing their names, their work, and who they were in the industry, all we can do now as spectators is gaze at their black, female bodies, which have been Otherized by their costuming to represent an "exotic" way of life. What film history can do is give them agency. Instead of nameless faces of exploitation, we can make them into artists as much as Spencer Tracy. When we see them and know their work, they become individuals.

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