Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Flesh and Fury (1952) at the Noir City Film Festival

The double bill of FLESH AND FURY (1952) and OUTSIDE THE WALL (1950) was a late addition to my Noir City Film Festival plans, and I'm so glad I made the effort! These films combined for a highly entertaining night at the movies.

A significant number of the films shown at this year's Noir City Festival are brand-new 35mm prints just struck by Universal, including this pair of titles. Neither FLESH AND FURY or OUTSIDE THE WALL are available on DVD. Kudos to Universal for their willingness to support the festival by providing new copies of so many interesting yet rarely shown films.

It was kind of funny that earlier in the festival I saw a film titled FLESH AND FANTASY (1943) and then saw the similarly titled FLESH AND FURY tonight! However, any resemblance between the films ends at the titles. While FLESH AND FANTASY was otherworldly, FLESH AND FURY was a very earthbound tale about a deaf boxer.

Tony Curtis was just climbing his way into bigtime stardom when he played the lead in FLESH AND FURY. He's excellent -- and, it must be admitted, very handsome -- as Paul Callan, a deaf boxer on the way up.

Jan Sterling plays Sonia, whose love for boxing is a tad on the unusual side, as she has a tendency to frequently jump up and scream "KILL HIM!" She latches on to the innocent Paul, seeing him as a potential meal ticket.

As Paul achieves increasing success, Sonia's access to Paul and his checkbook is disrupted when he gets to know Ann (Mona Freeman), a magazine reporter who writes a feature on him. Unlike Sonia, who calls Paul a "dummy," Ann is comfortable with Paul's lack of hearing, due to her father having been deaf; she even knows sign language, and she urges Paul to overcome his embarrassment at signing and use it.

Paul secretly has surgery to restore hearing to one of his ears, but finds that the surgery brings new, unexpected issues and insecurities he must deal with, including whether to take part in a medically risky championship fight.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable film with a terrific cast. My only quibble with the movie was that I was skeptical about the surgery restoring hearing. This 83-minute film was a great watch from start to finish.

Curtis does a great job, believably portraying a deaf man; he's both appealing and sympathetic. It's small wonder that he became such a big star.

Sterling and Freeman's characters are stark opposites. Sterling's character initially seems as though she might be an okay gal, as at least she's up front about the fact that Paul needs to have money before he can take her on a date; however, she gradually peels back the layers revealing a grasping, mercenary woman willing to lash out and make fun of Paul when she's thwarted. In contrast, Freeman is the all-American girl, albeit with more money than average, sunny and encouraging.

Wallace Ford plays Paul's trainer, with Connie Gilchrist as his wife. One of my faves, Louis Jean Heydt, plays a trainer for a competing boxer who has a reputation for fighting unfairly; Heydt has such a great "character" face and really stood out in his scenes. The deep cast includes Harry Guardino, Katherine Locke, Harry Shannon, Nella Walker, and Tom Powers.

FLESH AND FURY was directed by Joseph Pevney -- who appeared on camera acting in the night's second film, OUTSIDE THE WALL.

The excellent black and white cinematography was by Irving Glassberg. I especially loved the trails of cigar and cigarette smoke creating a haze around the boxing ring. From a modern perspective, the idea of such vigorous sports activity taking place amidst all that secondhand smoke is hard to fathom.

This film is available in Europe on a Region 2 DVD. Hopefully at some point in the future it will be available in the U.S. on Region 1 DVD so that more people can see it.

Discovering new-to-me movies like FLESH AND FURY is one of the reasons I love the Noir City Film Festival!

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