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Two clubmen discuss the occult, introducing three weird tales: 1) Plain, bitter Henrietta secretly loves law student Michael. Then on Mardi Gras night, a mysterious stranger gives her a mask of beauty that she must return at midnight. 2) At a party, palmist Podgers makes uncannily accurate predictions, later telling skeptic Marshal Tyler that he will murder someone. The notion obsesses Tyler, with ironic consequences. 3) High wire artist Gaspar dreams of falling, then loses his nerve. He recognizes Joan from his dreams, and falls for her. Will any of his dreams, involving Joan and disaster, come true? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Flesh and Fantasy is a rare forties Hollywood attempt at an art film, and while I cannot say it's wholly successful, it's a good try. Directed by the highly esteemed French director Julian Duvivier and produced by the highly esteemed French actor Charles Boyer, it consists of three stories of the supernatural, told to Robert Benchley, in a framing device, in what appears to be a men's club.
The first tale concerns a homely girl who is turned beautiful by the power of a mask sold to her by a strange little shopkeeper. It's a slight, lovely fable, well-acted by Betty Field and Bob Cummings. In the second story we find Edward G. Robinson in London, where a fortune teller reveals to him a fate he tries vainly to escape. The third segment, despite the presence of Charles Boyer and Barbara Stanwyck, is rather mediocre, and concerns predictions in a circus setting. Of these three tales the middle one, an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde story, is by far the best; it is also visually the most appealing.
Duvivier brings a Gallic gentility to the film, and his compositions are excellent and always fastidious. One gathers that the movie must have been a labor of love for producer Charles Boyer. All the actors are in top form, and the picture does not at all feel like a product of the Universal studio of this period.
Flesh and Fantasy is one of several wartime movies that dealt with the issues of death and fate, which were obviously hanging heavier than unusual on peoples' minds in those days. Off the top of my head I can think of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I Married a Witch, A Guy Named Joe, Between Two Worlds, The Uninvited and The Picture Of Dorian Gray. Death, rather than dying, was a feature of most such films, which as a rule steered clear of anything grisly, which is to say reminiscent of battlefields. Flesh and Fantasy is quite good at this. With its soft chairs, cobbled streets and a convincing London bridge thrown in for good measure, it makes facing up to one's fate feel as comfortable and delicious a proposition as attending a masquerade ball.
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