Flesh (1932 film)

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Flesh (1932 lobby card).jpg
Theatrical lobby card
Directed by John Ford
Written by Moss Hart
William Faulkner
Edmund Goulding
Leonard Praskins (adaptation)
Edgar Allan Woolf (adaptation)
Produced byJohn Ford
John W. Considine Jr.
Starring Wallace Beery
Ricardo Cortez
Karen Morley
Jean Hersholt
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Edited by William S. Gray
Music by Alfred Newman
Distributed by Loew's Inc.
Release date
  • December 8, 1932 (1932-12-08)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Language English/German
Budget$480,000 [1]
Box office$837,000 [1]

Flesh is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film starring Wallace Beery as a German wrestler. Some of the script was written by Moss Hart and an uncredited William Faulkner, and the film was co-produced and directed by John Ford, who removed his director's credit from the picture.



In Germany, American convict Laura (Karen Morley) is released from prison because she is pregnant. Before leaving, she assures her boyfriend and fellow American convict Nicky (Ricardo Cortez), who does not know of her pregnancy, that they will reunite when he gets out. Meanwhile, the German wrestler Polakai (Wallace Beery) has just won another bout in a string of victories on his way to a national championship, but he works for income at a local beer hall, hoisting large beer barrels on his shoulders to both entertain and serve the customers.

Laura arrives and orders a large meal but is unable to pay. When Mr. Herman, the beer hall's owner (Jean Hersholt), is about to call the police, Polakai offers to pay for the meal himself. Later that evening with nowhere to go, Laura accepts Polakai's offer to stay in his small apartment, which is also owned by Herman and his wife (Greta Meyer). The stay turns out to be a lengthy one. It is implied that Polakai and Laura sleep together, but even though he proposes to her several times, she turns him down. Though she is touched by Polakai's simple but generous nature, Laura is still in love with Nick. When Polakai catches her stealing his money to obtain Nick's release, Laura confesses but claims that Nick is her brother. Once again, the gullible wrestler comes to her aid.

Nick arrives and plays along with the ruse that he's Laura's brother. When he learns that Laura is pregnant, though, he takes money that Polakai has given him and immediately heads back to America. With Nick gone, Laura finally assents to Polakai's proposal and reveals her pregnancy, leaving him to believe that he will be the father. On the night that the child is born, Polakai wins the German wrestling championship. Laura still pines for Nick despite his having left her, but Polakai thinks that she's homesick for America. The Hermans have already emigrated to the U.S., and Polakai decides that he and Laura should follow them, hoping that he can win a world wrestling championship there.

In America, Polakai and Laura are reunited with Nick, whom Laura has forgiven and who offers to be Polakai's manager, although he is actually in league with Willard (John Miljan), a crooked promoter. As Polakai learns how his matches are being rigged, he begins to drink. Laura tries to sober him up and get him to win his championship match, which he is supposed to lose, but Nick begins to beat her. Polakai, coming to, strangles Nick. He goes on to the wrestling match anyway, which he wins, only to be arrested. In the aftermath, the district attorney seems willing to go light on Polakai, and Laura promises to go away so that she will not hurt him anymore. Polakai, however, holds her hand.


Box office

The film grossed a total of $837,000: $487,000 from the U.S. and Canada and $350,000 in other markets, resulting in a profit of $49,000. [1]

Allusions in other films

Nearly six decades after the release of Flesh, the title character in the Coen brothers 1991 film Barton Fink struggles to overcome writer's block while he tries to write a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery. The Coens were reportedly unaware of this 1932 production when they developed their film, which features a character based somewhat on William Faulkner, whom Fink consults while writing his script. [2]

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  1. 1 2 3 The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. "That Barton Fink Feeling": An Interview with the Brothers Coen Archived December 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine , cinepad.com; accessed July 28, 2015.