Sunday, March 6, 2011

Five from a Favorite - Flesh and Fantasy (Julien Duvivier, 1943)

Minor but highly entertaining and mildly haunting, Julien Duvivier's Flesh and Fantasy was the director's follow-up to his previous successful anthology film Tales of Manhattan (1942). For Flesh, six stories are chopped to three, with the social commentary and comedic edge of Tales giving way to more horror and supernaturally slanted elements. The first story, starring Betty Field as an ugly duckling who has an encounter with a mysterious mask during Mardis Gras, takes place at a party completely flooded by streamers and rambunctiousness which sets the stage for some cat-and-mouse romantic games to play out, the entire thing having more than a hint of von Sternberg flavor. The second story, adapted from Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, stars Edward G. Robinson as a lawyer who becomes obsessed with a psychic's prediction that he's going to kill someone. Robinson has to my eyes rarely been better than he is here, ravaged with a cool and increasing paranoia on his way to complete madness, surrounded by a moody, shadowy, fog laden atmosphere of dread that often evokes the 40's chillers of Jacques Tourneur. The third story I can't quite connect to another director, but it stars Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Boyer, and involves tightrope walking and abstract premonitions. It's able to sustain a dreamy and dire vibe while conjuring up sequences of heightened tension through close-ups and eyelines (Siodmak?), and is purposefully vague in a pretty interesting way. While the whole thing doesn't quite stack up against Duvivier masterpieces such as Pépé le Moko, it is a personal favorite, and deserves at the very least a Region 1 release of ANY kind, something it's sadly been denied so far.