For Reel

Flesh and Fantasy (1943)
September 3, 2016, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Julien Duvivier
3.5 Stars
Flesh and FantasyThe accomplished French auteur Julien Duvivier had a short-lived stay in Hollywood during the second World War, with his anthology film Tales of Manhattan being his most well-remembered effort. This later film is the better assemblage of stories, largely due to a more consistent tonal and aesthetic cohesion—if Tales of Manhattan feels like a gimmick, Flesh and Fantasy plays like a poet riffing on the idea of fate. Each of the three stories involves an ironic twist that recalls O. Henry (in actuality they were pulled from various sources, including Oscar Wilde), but Duvivier’s dealings in darker subject matter with an expressionistic visual strategy amplifies the gothic, supernatural qualities of ironies involved. The best of the pieces follow Edgar G. Robinson as a man who becomes obsessed with controlling his own fate when a fortune teller informs him that he will kill somebody. Initially shocked and resistant to the accusation, his method of coping to the information is not to avoid violent situations, but to actively commit the murder on his own volition, as if to get it out of the way. Similarly, the final segment involving Charles Boyer and Barbara Stanwyck describes a man’s fixation with what he presumes to be his destiny, only the ambiguous ending supposes that fate may or may not be at play in his life. The stories are provocative, but Duvivier’s imagining of scenes such as the demonic costumes at a Mardi Gras celebration are the highlight—the way he uses both visual effects and elaborate lighting set-ups provides the perfect compliment to a script that fixates itself on the uncanny.

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