For Reel

Destiny (1944)
September 3, 2016, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Director(s): Reginald Le Borg & Julien Duvivier
2.5 Stars
DestinyThis hugely bizarre drama was originally imagined as the first of four stories in Julien Duvivier’s Flesh and Fantasy. That audience’s responses were so favorable to the film and this chapter in particular inspired Universal Pictures to expand on the short and release it as its own feature, enlisting director Reginald de Borg and screenwriter Roy Chanslor for the task of fattening up the paltry material. Duvivier is such a specific and deliberate visual stylist that the scenes he originally shot are completely apparent—a climactic nightmare sequence is staged in the tradition of French impressionism, recalling Jean Epstein’s emphasis on the fury of natural forces at the end of the The Fall of the House of Usher. Unfortunately, what is evident as being the added material plays as little more than unneeded fluff, attempting to flesh out Alan Curtis’ fugitive with little success. There is an undeniable pleasure in the way Duvivier stages the supernatural qualities had by Gloria Jean’s blind girl (animals literally flock to her at every opportunity), but both the lengthened first act and a hilariously inappropriate tacked-on ending do much to break the spell. John Cromwell’s The Enchanted Cottage is a better place to look if searching for a blend of the fantastical and everyday, also involving a supernatural intrusion into what otherwise plays as a romantic melodrama.

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.