Flesh and Fury Review

The flesh is courtesy of a twentysomething Tony Curtis, while the fury is best embodied by Jan "kneeling bags my nylons" Sterling. Curtis plays a young, unpolished boxer named Paul Callan. He's reserved and gentle, more like a wildlife specimen than a man at the first of the picture. Others freely call him "dummy" because Paul can neither hear nor speak. Intrigued at the prospect of sticking her hooks into someone with fresh prize money, Sterling's Sonya wants to meet Paul after his victory. It's in his dressing room where she realizes Paul is deaf. She also sees a few bills on the table, just waiting to buy her the night's drinks. As that night blossoms into several more, and Paul gets a manager who helps him book (and win) increasingly bigger fights, Sonya promises to marry Paul once he becomes champ. It's around this time when the film introduces an additional wheel in the form of Ann (Mona Freeman), a wealthy writer doing a magazine piece on the deaf boxer, in part because her father too had been unable to hear.

Director Joseph Pevney, later to again address deafness, in 1957's Man of a Thousand Faces, as something of a societal stigma rather than just a physical affliction, gets a strong performance from the eager Curtis. We see the character evolve in the course of the short running time, from being that wounded animal early on to slowly gaining some confidence and, ultimately, growing into a more independent figure. It doesn't hurt the film or the actor to see Curtis without hearing him. His contribution to the boxing scenes could hardly be more convincing given the circumstances. Sterling likewise holds her part of the movie together with nary a false move. Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole was a year earlier but this is virtually the same Sterling who was so brilliantly corrosive in that. Few actresses of this period had such a level of proficiency at being nasty and entertaining us in the process as Sterling. You want to call her a femme fatale but that seems far too light.

Flesh and Fury suffers noticeably when Sterling gets pushed to the side in favor of the more viewer friendly romance of Paul and Ann. Sonya not only loses screen time, also becoming tiresome in her dead end plot strand, she represents the dividing line between the film having slightly noirish attributes and its eventual descent into unmistakably fifties-era melodrama. If you're really keen on either one then a letdown is probable. It's really an unhealthy mix, where a few interesting ideas like the deaf boxer's rise to fame are eventually usurped by shallow dips into psychology. The whopper of, what I guess you could call, a twist is unseemly and handled with a shortage of believability. It may be entertaining enough in a trashy sort of way, but the evenness of the picture is hurt as a result.

In short, and despite a host of reservations, Flesh and Fury stands up well enough if you're already a fan of Curtis or Sterling or movies of this time period. It's not exactly a boxing picture in the manner that, say, Body and Soul or The Set-Up, are and it's about as middle of the road as most any other film directed by Pevney. It should hold the attention of those who enjoy the so-called classics, even if it really isn't one. I'm glad to have seen it but the recommendable qualities are mostly limited to the performances of Curtis and Sterling and, perhaps, the pervasively middlebrow nature of the movie.

The Disc

Flesh and Fury was released on R2 DVD back in March of last year by Eureka. (That label sure seems to have an affinity for Joseph Pevney, releasing four films he directed in a 16-month period.) The Universal property is still unavailable in R1. Eureka's PAL disc is quite good, and in the proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It's on a single-layered disc and exhibits hardly any damage. Contrast is fine. If forced to complain, I might cite the picture as a tiny bit soft but it's still roughly on par with the typical transfer of a film of this age. The source material is good enough to ease the mind of anyone who might be considering a purchase or viewing.

The mono audio also has no real problems. It's clear and consistent, with strong volume levels. Dialogue and sound emanate cleanly. A legitimate item for quarrel, however, is the lack of subtitles. How dreadful is it that a film centered around a deaf protagonist doesn't have subtitles?

No extra features adorn the disc at all.

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