Barbara Stanwyck had fairly prominent roles in the majority of her films. She was often the leading lady. But in a couple of cases, her screen time was brief: her cameo in Hollywood Canteen; her role in the TV movie Love Letters.
Flesh and Fantasy marks one of these smaller appearances. This anthology film has Stanwyck sharing the screen with stars such as Robert Benchley, Edward G. Robinson, Betty Field, and Charles Winninger… but not directly. She appears only in the third segment of the anthology, sharing scenes with Charles Boyer.
Framed through a story of a businessman who has had a strange dream, Flesh and Fantasy shares three stories of superstition and the supernatural: a dressmaker (Betty Field) who uses a mask to transform herself into a beauty for one night; a fortune teller (Thomas Mitchell) who predicts a murder; and a man (Charles Boyer) who has a nightmare, only to meet a woman (Barbara Stanwyck) he saw in that nightmare soon after.
These stories are told to the businessman by his friend, who believes they’ll actually help calm him and put his mind at ease! An unusual technique, it seems, until the stories play out in unexpected ways.
Flesh and Fantasy was written by Ernest Pascal, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Ellis St. Joseph from stories by St. Joseph, Oscar Wilde, and Laslo Vadnay. The film was directed by Julien Duvivier, who also co-produced it alongside star Charles Boyer.
The stories told in this film aren’t as supernatural or spooky as they could be, or as I expected them to be after I read a description of the film implying all of the stories were related to the occult. Sacrificial rituals and hauntings are nowhere to be found here!
Still, the second segment, starring Thomas Mitchell and Edward G. Robinson, is quite intense. Boyer brings some suspense, too, as he attempts to walk a tightrope… after dreaming that he would fall off of it!
Betty Field is fantastic in the first segment as a woman with no confidence who wants to change her “curse” of a face. The saddest of the segments, it’s sort of similar in tone to The Enchanted Cottage, mixing in a more melancholy version of Cinderella (as she’s only able to use her “spell” of the face-changing mask until midnight).
In the second segment, Thomas Mitchell is a delight as the fortune teller, a stark contrast to the very good, very paranoid performance of Edward G. Robinson. The film’s best photography comes in this segment, with some fun visual tricks used as Edward G. has a conversation with himself about the predicted murder.
The third segment is the Stanwyck/Boyer romantic-mystery. Stanwyck only appears in probably a little more than half of the segment, but she’s fantastic in every moment she appears. She has nice chemistry with Boyer, and while this isn’t one of her most memorable characters, fans will still want to tune in to see it.
Anthology films can be hit-or-miss. This is one of the better ones I’ve seen. It’s a cool collection of stories, all grabbing the viewer’s attention for different reasons, and the ensemble cast is top-notch. Not a new favorite, but recommended!