Anthologies have been a cornerstone of horror movies since Dead of Night (1945). Amicus became the master of these collections in the 60s and 70s with such classics as Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973). Even today, new filmmakers put their modern-day spin on the format with such flicks as Trick ‘r Treat (2007) and V/H/S (2012). So it’s always fun to find a “new” anthology, especially when it predates Dead of Night by two years. Flesh and Fantasy (1943) may not necessarily be as horrific as others in the genre but it boasts a series of three tales touching on the supernatural and occult. Add to that a very impressive cast that includes Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck and you get something well worth checking out.
The wraparound tale is the standard weak story involving two men in a club discussing dreams. The topic quickly leads one gentleman to begin reading tales out of a book and so begins our journey. The first story deals with a rather plain woman named Henrietta (Betty Field, Picnic) who is in love with the dashing law student named Michael (Robert Cummings, My Living Doll). It’s Mardi Gras and a mysterious stranger gives her a mask to wear, hiding her face from Michael and allowing him to see her for what she really is. However, she must return the mask at midnight. We then move right into the second (and best) tale that centers around Marshall Tyler (Edward G. Robinson, Soylent Green) and his obsession with a palm reader named Septimus Podgers (Thomas Mitchell, It’s A Wonderful Life) who predicts that Marshall will kill someone. As Marshall’s life spins out of control, will the prophecy come true? As Michael’s tale comes to an unfortunate end at a circus, we jump right into our third tale about a high wire artist named Gaspar (Charles Boyer, Gaslight) who dreams of a woman (Barbara Stanwyck, The Night Walker) and ends up meeting her on a boat. However, does meeting her in real life mean the tragedy in his dream must come true as well?
All three tales deal with supernatural events that you might find in an episode of The Twilight Zone or One Step Beyond. How they connect with each other is unique and makes for an interesting 95 minutes. Romance certainly plays a part in each tale and the horror is downplayed. However, Flesh and Fantasy is well worth the watch. Director Julien Duvivier (Le Golem) weaves a subtle tale with great visual imagery in this forgotten film from Universal Pictures. It gets a great review by author Tom Weaver in the fantastic book Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946 (a cherished part of my personal library). Flesh and Fantasy is available on DVD as well as YouTube. Check it out for yourself and you’ll be glad you did!