Catching up on the last week. Last Saturday Noir City offered two badly wounded films, and a tantalizing teaser of a possible reconstruction in the works.
DESTINY (1944): So I did this in reverse order, with the B movie first. But in this case that's the right way to do it, because this started out as the opening segment of Julien Duvivier's anthology film FLESH AND FANTASY (not his original title.) Universal chopped it off and gave it to Reginald Le Borg (a decidedly lesser director) to fill out to B feature length. So it starts with a pretty uninspiring )(okay, laughably bad) story of a patsy, a bank robbery, and a getaway. Appropriately named Cliff Banks (Alan Curtis) is the patsy, an ex-con tricked into being the getaway driver. Not trusting the law to give him a fair shake, he's on the run in a small rural village. And then it turns into an entirely different movie when he runs into Jane Broderick (Gloria Jean,) a blind daughter of a farmer. She has a special, magical relationship with nature (this is when it stops being a Le Borg movie and turns into a Duvivier.) Nature provides for her, inspires trust in Cliff, and then protects her when he breaks that trust. A strange hybrid of the lowest B noir and some poetic magic realism. Add a tacked on framing device that completely changes the point of everything, and it's a shambling corpse that you can see once had a pretty strong heart.
FLESH AND FANTASY (1943): So FLESH AND FANTASY kind of picks off where DESTINY...might have left off if it hadn't been butchered. And a completely unnecessary "hammer the point home" framing story is tacked on, with Robert Benchley and David Hoffman. The less said of that the better. This is an anthology film all about fate, fortune telling, dreams, and whether you truly are the master or your own life. Originally in 4 parts but like I said part 1 became DESTINY. In part 1 (really part 2,) on Mardi Gras an ugly, bitter woman Henrietta (Betty Field) wears a beautiful mask and woos the student she's had a crush on, Michael (Robert Cummings.) They have a lovely evening, but at midnight she must return the mask, with surprising and sweet results. In part 2 (really 3,) Edward G. Robinson plays a skeptic who is unimpressed with a palm reader's remarkably accurate predictions. That is, until they continue coming true. And then he just has to know what that prediction the palm reader was too afraid to tell him actually was. Turns out, that also comes true in a very ironic way. Based on an Oscar Wilde story. And finally, in part 3 (really 4,) Charles Boyer plays a famous tightrope walker. He's famous for his "drunk on the tightrope" act, and for jumping from one rope to another--without a net. But when he has a dream where he falls and dies, he loses his nerve. Then he meets the woman he saw in his dream (Barbara Stanwyck) and starts really falling apart...by falling in love. But can dreams really control his fate?
So the highlight of all of this was Eddie Muller's revelation that there is a project in the works, hopefully, to restore Duvivier's original film. And I would eagerly watch that.
There was also a lot of discussion among Noir Citizens about whether Duvivier's film is "really noir." Normally I'm kind of bored by those debates. I'll give it to you that by any narrow definition, no this probably isn't "Noir." But you know what, you can go to Burger King and get french fries, which last time I checked are neither burgers nor kings. So unless you get equally worked up over that, just shut up an enjoy the cinematic meal.
Total Running Time: 159 minutes
My Total Minutes: 466,689