Noir City DC was held in October 2018, and featured a number of fascinating films. Though I would have loved to have seen them all, having a job and other responsibilities precluded that. We were, however, able to see a double feature of two rarely shown films. The first was Destiny (1944), the story of Cliff Banks (Alan Curtis), an ex-con who has a penchant for getting himself involved with the wrong women. The second film was Flesh and Fantasy (1943), an anthology film - three stories that looked at superstition, dreams, and destiny. But more interesting than the films themselves was that fact that, at one point, they were to be one film.
Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation (and the host of Noir Alley on TCM) introduced the films, and also hosted an impromptu discussion in the lobby of the AFI Silver Theatre on the intermission. He provided a fascinating look at the history of these two films, originally intended to be only one movie, with four separate, interrelated vignettes.
Julien Duvivier had already been acknowledged as a great director, thanks to films like Pépé le Moko (1937), when World War II broke out. Like many of his compatriots, he left France to work in Hollywood, where he felt he would have more creative freedom (EuroChannel article). Mr. Duvivier was friendly with Charles Boyer and the two formed a production company. The result was Flesh and Fantasy, which would be distributed by Universal Studios. Only there was a problem. Universal executives thought the first vignette was too odd for their audience, and yanked it out of the film. Then, the following year, Universal decided release it with a frame built around the short (to make it feature length and "clarify" it). They called back actors Gloria Jean (Jane Broderick) and Alan Curtis, and over their protests, forced them to film this new, odd sequence. Mr. Duvivier refused to participate (ordering his name be removed from the picture), and Reginald Le Borg reluctantly assumed direction of the new section. The new film was Destiny (1944)
Both Teresa Wright and Bonita Granville were considered for Ms. Jean's role (AFI Catalog). Gloria Jean was brought to Universal as a singing star in the mold of Deanna Durbin. She saw Flesh and Fantasy as a turning point in her career. Finally, she would be in a dramatic role (with almost no singing) with fine performers Like Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck. But, when the studio pulled her segment from the film, she was devastated, and felt that this action prevented her from advancing in the film industry (The Hollywood Reporter, 2018). By then end of the 1940's, her film career was pretty much over. She did some television, but eventually worked as an executive secretary at Redken Laboratories; she retired from that job after 30 years with the company. She moved to Hawaii to live with her son, Angelo and daugher-in-law (Angelo died in 2017). A biography was published in 2005 (Gloria Jean: A Little Bit of Heaven by Scott and Jan MacGillivray). Ms. Jean died in August 2018 of heart failure and pneumonia. She was 92.
Story two (often called "The Palmist") concerns Marshall Tyler (Edward G. Robinson), a businessman who is told by palm reader Septimus Podgers (Thomas Mitchell) that he will kill someone. Tyler becomes obsessed by the prophecy, and is plagued by voices encouraging to control the prediction by picking a victim now, so that he will not be accused of a crime. Mr. Robinson is a deft actor who portrays mania well (if you've never seen him in Scarlet Street (1945), give yourself a treat). He's ably supported by Mr. Mitchell (a superb character actor), along with Dame May Whitty (Lady Pamela Hardwick) and Anna Lee (Rowena).
The final story features Charles Boyer as Paul Gaspar, a world-renowned high-wire performer who is having nightmares that see him falling from the wire as a lovely woman gasps in horror. While traveling back to America (and considering the future of his act), he meets Joan Stanley (Barbara Stanwyck), the woman whom he has seen in the dream. Romantic elements also infuse this story, and both Mr. Boyer and Ms. Stanwyck are excellent (and are excellent together). We also have Charles Winninger as King Lamarr, the sympathetic owner of the Paul's circus.
Mr. Muller is hoping that one day, these films can be reassemble to finally show us the film Mr. Duvivier intended to release. In the meantime, I heartily suggest watching both films together, and let you mind wander over the possibilities. Here are trailers from both of the films: