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  Flesh and Fantasy Dream A Little Dream
Year: 1943
Director: Julien Duvivier
Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Charles Boyer, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Field, Robert Cummings, Thomas Mitchell, Charles Winninger, Anna Lee, Dame May Whitty, C. Aubrey Smith, Robert Benchley, Edgar Barrier, David Hoffman, Clarence Muse
Genre: Horror, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mr Doakes (Robert Benchley) walks into his gentlemen's club a troubled man, and thinks that a stiff drink will cure him of his jitters. The reason for this, as he explains to his friend Davis (David Hoffman), is that after an encounter with a fortune teller, he had a terrifying nightmare last night which meant he did not sleep very well, but Davis thinks he has the cure for future unsettlements. He sits Doakes down and begins to tell him a story, which starts with a body being found in a river during Mardi Gras, and goes on to detail the sad story of a woman who feels her lack of good looks has damned her to a life of misery and bitterness...

As to what exactly this has to do with curing somebody of their jitters, your guess is as good as mine, but that framing story, while light and amusing, doesn't really have much to do with the three tales this film consists of and if anything, is jarring in tone with the more serious business of the fantasies. Not, as the title may have you mistakenly anticipating, anything sexual, romance is as far as the narrative goes in that department, but each of this trilogy does have something to do with the supernatural, or at least parts one and two do, in part three it becomes increasingly marginalised.

So it won't come as much of a surprise to learn that part three is the weakest of the trio, or that essentially the stories are all in the wrong order: three should have been first, then one, and finally the strongest, two, should have capped it all, but it looks as if the producers wanted to end the movie on a swoonsome high note rather than something darker. The first vignette opens looking as if it will be pretty bleak, with the discovery of that suicide (actually part of another segment that was dropped to be expanded into another film, Destiny), but love wins the day.

The bitter woman is Henrietta (Betty Field), whose ugliness is denoted by having the actress playing her not wear any cosmetics, so the lesson seems to be give a girl a maekover and she'll be irresistable to that special someone. Here, however, a mysterious costume shop owner gives her a mask to wear so she may woo the man of her dreams (Robert Cummings), but it doesn't turn out as tragically as she worried, leaving a neatly atmospheric tale which, as with the others, is beautifully photographed enough to compensate for any other deficiencies. Next, however, is the real reason to see this: Edward G. Robinson in a spooky Oscar Wilde tale of inescapable fate.

Robinson plays Marshall Tyler, a man not given to superstition until he meets a fortune teller at a party (Thomas Mitchell with the great character name of Septimus Podgers) who gets everything right but falters when reading Tyler's palm. There is something he is not telling him, and Tyler goes to see him privately to hear that he is supposed to murder someone before he can be married, a message that is visualised superbly, with his reflection goading him into trying to kill. The acting here is first class, and there's a morbid wit about the whole thing that works in its favour. If only the same could have been said about Charles Boyer's tightrope walker section, in which he dreams of his own death only to lead himself into an affair with Barbara Stanwyck's mystery woman who he has glimpsed in that dream. This never settles into the satisfying kick that its predecessors do, ending things on a muted note, but seek this out for the middle tale, it makes it all worth it. Music by Alexander Tansman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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