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Flesh and Fantasy

Flesh and Fantasy title card

Year - 1943
Studio - Universal
Stars - Charles Boyer, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Robert Benchley, Betty Field, Robert Cummings, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winniger, Anna Lee
Director - Julien Duvivier
Writing Credits - Ellis St. Joseph (story, segment 1), Oscar Wilde (story, segment 2), László Vadnay (story, segment 3), Ernest Pascal, Samuel Hoffenstein, Ellis St. Joseph (writers)
Music - Alexandre Tansman


This anthology film of three "haunting tales of the occult and supernatural" has framing scenes with Mr. Doakes (Robert Benchley) who is disturbed by a dream and by an experience with a fortune teller. Mr. Davis (David Hoffman) tries to help him by referring to a book of short stories containing moral lessons.

The first story takes place during Mardi Gras, where the homely Henrietta (Betty Field) is despondent over her appearance and inability to attract a man. About to jump to her death from a bridge, she is stopped by an old man (Edgar Barrier) who takes her to a costume shop and tells her to select a desirable mask. He tells her that she must return that mask by midnight. She dons the mask of a beautiful woman's face and returns to the festivities where she meets Michael (Robert Cummings). They dance and celebrate until midnight nears, and he follows her back to the costume shop. Warning him of her ugliness, she removes the mask only to discover that she is now beautiful. By being selfless, she has altered her own visage.

Flesh and Fantasy poster

The second tale features Marshall Tyler (Edward G. Robinson) a lawyer who, at a party, has his palm read by a fortune teller, Septimus Podgers (Thomas Mitchell). Podger is disturbed by what he sees and refuses to tell Tyler. But Tyler goes to Podger's home and gives him 100 pounds to reveal the information; Podger tells him that he will murder someone. Tyler is, at first, incredulous, but becomes obsessed with the information to the point where he decides the only way to gain peace is to actually kill someone. He concocts a plot to poison an old woman friend, Lady Pamela Hardwicke (Dame May Whitty). She indeed dies, but he then learns that her death was from natural causes and that she didn't take his poison. Desperate, he then plans to kill a clergyman (C. Aubrey Smith) but that fails too. He then encounters the fortune teller Podgers on London Bridge, strangles him and throws the body into the Thames, fulfilling the prophecy.

In the final story, Paul Gaspar (Charles Boyer) is a circus tight rope walker who has a dream that as he accidentally falls from the high wire, with no net below, he sees a beautiful woman who screams in fear. Later, on an ocean cruise, he sees that lady from his dream, Joan Stanley (Barbara Stanwyck). He is very attracted to her, but she seems to hold a dark secret, and resists his advances. Eventually they become romantically involved but, as the voyage draws to an end, she insists that no further relationship is possible. On the final night on the ship, Gaspar dreams that, as Joan disembarks, she is taken into custody by two policemen. The next morning, he escorts her from the ship and no such event occurs.

Back at the circus, Gaspar performs his high wire act, and Joan is in the audience. He executes his dangerous jump successfully, and the two walk back to his trailer. While he enters to change clothes, two plainclothes detectives approach Joan. She is not surprised and admits that she had told the police to find her here. She reveals all to Gaspar, and walks off with the policemen, just as his dream had predicted.


Just as in The Enchanted Cottage, 1940s Hollywood's portrayal of female homeliness is the lack of make-up and styled hair on an otherwise attractive woman. Before her transformation, Betty Field's character is by no means ugly.