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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
While Julien Duvivier's Hollywood career during his wartime exile never reached the heights of his French classics, his time in America did result in one visual treat in the now sadly rarely revived Flesh and Fantasy, one of the earliest and easily one of the best supernatural anthology films. Dealing with dreams, premonitions and destiny (the latter somewhat ironic considering the unexpected fate of part of the film), the three tales by Ellis St. Joseph, Oscar Wilde and Laszlo Vadnay were originally intended to segue into each other (the last two still do). Sadly the original opening story, featuring Alan Curtis as an escaped killer and Gloria Jean as his prey, so impressed preview audiences that Universal removed it entirely and expanded it into the 1944 feature Destiny, and never restored it to its original version even though it's clear just whose body is being recovered at the beginning of what is now the first story. Instead the studio opted to link the three remaining stories with Robert Benchley's comic neurotic in his gentleman's club sharing his worries over a conflicting dream and fortune teller's prediction with David Hoffman. It's an inoffensively lightweight linking device and one that set the tone for most horror anthologies that followed, but it's the weakest part of the film by far.

The opening fantasy set during Mardi Gras where a mask helps Betty Field's ugly and embittered woman find her inner beauty and the love of her life has a real dreamlike romanticism than spans the gothic - it begins with a striking shot of devils and demons retrieving a body from a shrouded river - to the intoxicating, the execution surpassing the obviousness of the morality play. But it's with the second story, based on Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, that Duvivier really gets to unleash his bag of tricks as fortune teller Thomas Mitchell convinces an initially sceptical Edward G. Robinson that he'll commit a murder, driving him to such despair that he plans to make the prophecy come true to get some peace of mind, all along egged on by his own whispering reflection and shadow in a veritable dual performance. Then it's back to romance, more ill-fated this time, as Charles Boyer's tightrope artist finds himself losing his nerve after dreaming of literally falling for his dream woman Barbara Stanwyck only to meet her for real and become infatuated with her...

There are no great surprises in any of the stories, but they're all beautifully staged and well cast, with Robert Cummings, Dame May Witty, C. Aubrey Smith and Charles Winniger among the supporting players. It would be nice if some day the original version of the opening story could be seen as it was intended as well, but with a proper restoration is extremely unlikely, as it stands the film is still a splendid entertainment. The French DVD (available under the French title Obsessions) has no extras - it would have been nice to have included the very brief Destiny as well - but offers an excellent transfer with English soundtrack and removable French subtitles that's far superior to the Spanish DVD release.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2009
Doakes (Robert Benchley) is read 3 stories to help in his decision as to whether or not to believe in fate or dreams.

In the first story, its "Mardi Gras" and everyone is wearing masks and
costumes. Henrietta (Betty Field), is depressed as she is ugly and is
about to drown herself when a stranger (Edgar Barrier) appears. He
leads her to a mask shop and tells her to pick a mask and join the
festivities on condition that she return at midnight. She goes out and
meets with Michael (Robert Cummings) who she has loved from afar for a
considerable time. Wearing her mask, she enjoys a few hours with him
before returning to the mask shop at midnight. However, Michael has
followed her......

In the second story, a palmist (Thomas Mitchell) is predicting events
with astonishing accuracy at a soirée at the house of Lady Pamela (May
Witty). Marshall (Edward G Robinson) sees that the palmist is not being
honest with him and goes to his house to insist that he tells him the
truth about what he can see. He sees murder. The rest of the tale is
played out with Marshall struggling with his conscience as he picks
victims to kill.....

In the third story, a tightrope-walker (Charles Boyer) has a dream that
during his act he falls from the wire while staring at a woman (Barbara
Stanwyck) that he has never met. The dream prompts him to cancel the
dangerous part of his act. On his way over to America he meets the
woman on the boat and they fall in love. He asks her to attend his next
show which she does. What happens....?...........

It is well-acted and I liked the first 2 stories in particular. The
only dodgy part to the 1st tale is in believing that Henrietta is ugly
- she just isn't! In the 2nd tale, Edward G Robinson is very good as he
reconciles himself to his fate and delivers some funny lines along the
way. There is also good support from the Dean (C Aubrey Smith). The 3rd
story develops at a slower pace than the previous two and has an
ambiguous ending.....

Its a film that you remember once it has finished.
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