Monday, August 22, 2016


Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL
Friday, August 19th – Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Sunday evening, Film Noir Foundation Director Alan K. Rode was pleased to present a pair of original 35mm prints struck by a very cooperative Universal Pictures. The two obscure features share a kinship beyond the parent studio since the films actually were conceived as one anthology directed by Julien Duvivier (PÉPÉ LE MOKO [1937]).

Reduced to a three-segment anthology by Universal after audience test screenings, FLESH AND FANTASY (1943, Universal Pictures, 94m) unfurls with a surreal structure common to each story, with dreams and reality intertwined. The first episode involves a reflection on inner beauty during Mardi Gras night in New Orleans. Henrietta (Betty Field) must get past her self-loathing if Michael (Robert Cummings) ever is to notice her. Thanks to a mask provided by a man of mystery (Edgar Barrier), Henrietta finds the courage to face what was holding her back. The segment instantly brings to mind various TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, as do the subsequent stories.

The following segment features the dependable Edward G. Robinson as Marshall Tyler, who in a moment of fate is traumatized by a palm reading conducted by Septimus Podgers (Thomas Mitchell), who predicts Tyler will kill! The camerawork by Stanley Cortez and Paul Ivano brings a noir architecture to this second story, with a sense of entrapment following the Robinson character, whose tormentor proves to be his own dark side, externalized thanks to the gloomy suggestion of Podgers. Haunting imagery pushes Tyler to the limit in sequences that anticipate the closing moments of SCARLET STREET (1945), in which Robinson's defeated Christopher Cross is condemned to an eternity of lonely streets and incessant voices.

The second segment segues nicely into the final episode, with tightrope walker Paul Gaspar (Charles Boyer) afraid to perform the most dangerous component of his circus act after he dreams of falling. The safety net's dramatic removal before Gaspar performs is emphasized as to suggest the need for the net is largely psychological. In further noir terms, the third segment implies that past transgressions have a stubborn way of following people. En route from London to New York by ship, Gaspar meets Joan Stanley (Barbara Stanwyck), the apparent embodiment of his dream woman, but perhaps an unattainable one for reasons that are at first imprecise.


The best-received segment of the original anthology would be excised by Universal and converted into DESTINY (1944, Universal Pictures, 65m). Director Reginald Le Borg was commissioned to expand the Julien Duvivier episode that originally opened FLESH AND FANTASY. In what begins in overly familiar territory for noir fans, cynical ex-con Cliff Banks (Alan Curtis, PHANTOM LADY [1944]) finds himself on the run in LA, albeit through no fault of his own. He blames his troubles on his uncanny ability to take up with the wrong dames, like the sexy frame possessed by night club singer Phyllis Prager (Vivian Austin). Events take a significant turn when Banks encounters Jane Broderick (Gloria Jean), a kind woman who can "see" despite her blindness and seems to be the miraculous antidote to what ails Banks. She even has a calming effect on animals known to be frightened of humans.

Banks finds redemption when he embraces the theme persistent in both films:  without faith in the basic goodness of other people, there is no basis for existence. Also significant is the healing power represented by the blind woman in a pastoral rural environment, which stands diametrically opposed to the oppressive chaos of the urban world rich with duplicitous types such as Marie (Minna Gombell) and Sam (Frank Fenton). DESTINY certainly stands as a progenitor of ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951) by way of distinct settings that clash.

DESTINY (1944)

Though generally I am opposed to studio meddling, I can understand Universal's enthusiasm with the potential of what was originally a 30-minute sequence. I wish I could evaluate the original FLESH AND FANTASY screened to test audiences, but today all that can be determined is DESTINY is unusually touching for a crime film laced with noir elements, and the edited version of the original film plays well enough at just over 90 minutes.

The remaining schedule:  NOIR CITY: CHICAGO 8