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FLESH AND FANTASY

       

For Hicksflicks.com, July 11, 2014

"Flesh and Fantasy" (1943, b/w) is a supernatural anthology film with an all-star cast comprised of three 30-minute (more or less) stories that explore the nature of dreams and fantasies/hallucinations, and whether they can cross over into reality or how they might affect the mind to make it seem as if they do.

Back in the 1980s and '90s I was often asked about this film by fans who remembered it, but it is only now making its home-video debut on Universal's Vault Series label for manufacture-on-demand DVDs.

The three stories are not really related but are connected by two men's-club members (one played by comic actor/author Robert Benchley) debating the occult. (The second and third story are also feebly attached by virtue of a transition that leads from Story 2 to Story 3 without pause.)

             

The first tale is light and slight but pleasant enough, about a plain young woman (Betty Field) in New Orleans during Mardi Gras who is unhappy and unkind, but who has a crush on a law student (Robert Cummings). A mysterious stranger gives her a mask to wear to a party that night but she must return it by midnight. Along the way there is some self-discovery about how the choices we make and how they affect our behavior and our outward appearance.

The second story, and by far the best (the film should have concluded with this one) stars Edward G. Robinson in a bravura performance as a lawyer and skeptic whose palm is read by Thomas Mitchell at a party, but he's obviously holding something back. It is later revealed that the psalmist saw that in the future the lawyer would murder someone. This sends the lawyer into an attack of anxiety that ultimately seals his fate.

           

The final yarn follows a high-wire artist (Charles Boyer) haunted by dreams of falling while being watched by a beautiful woman he doesn't know (Barbara Stanwyck). He starts to get the jitters about his aerial work and then he meets the woman in real life. This one is just so-so, though the stars give it some life.

Boyer produced the film and French director Julien Duvivier ("Tales of Manhattan") directed. (A fourth segment was deleted from "Flesh and Fantasy" before its release, then expanded in 1944 as a separate feature-length film titled "Destiny.")