The Great Flamarion


Year 1945

Erich Von Stroheim   as  The Great Flamarion  
Dan Duryea as Al Wallace
Mary Beth Hughes as Connie Wallace
Stephen Barclay as Eddie
 
Director - Anthony Mann
Screenwriters - Heinz Herald
  - Richard Weil
  - Anne Wighton

Oh, boy! Erich Von Stroheim! Anything with Erich Von Stroheim can't be all bad, can it? I mean even with a simple plot like Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes) seducing The Great Flamarion (Erich Von Stroheim) so that he'll kill her husband, it can't be too pedestrian, can it?

Not with Erich Von Stroheim on board it can't. I can't imagine ever liking Erich Von Stroheim as a person due to his seeming arrogance, but boy is he fun to watch. When it comes to big budget, over the top spectacles, Erich Von Stroheim is A Number One. Oh, you can talk Orson Welles all day long but eventually, he was worn down. Erich Von Stroheim never gave up.

I'll bet you never even heard of Erich Von Stroheim. Maybe this will jog your memory. It's from The Grand Illusion.

Always Dressed to Steal a Scene

So why have most people never heard of him? For two reasons. One, he made his mark as a director in the era of the silent film. Two, he burned so many bridges and angered so many studio executives that he never got a chance to direct a big budget movie after the acceptance of the "talkies". He directed one or two lesser efforts after the 1920s, but nothing on the scale of what he'd done prior.

In fact, two of the silent movies that he directed are considered masterpieces. Even as an actor, his star is considered to still be shining. The Grand Illusion is considered by some to be the best movie ever made. I mean by people who supposedly know movies and not Jimmy Joe down the road who feels that Gator deserves the honor.

So what about The Great Flamarion? For starters, what makes him so great? One look at the guy and you can tell that it's not his prowess with women. In fact, his loneliness is a key to his motivation.

Well, let's start at the beginning of the movie, which happens to be at the end of Flamarion's life. This opening is constructed very well. There are shots fired, Flamarion is wounded, but who fired them, when, and why is all saved up until the end.

Flashback time! Flamarion is a trick shot artist. His stage act, which is one part of a vaudeville show, involves him pretending to catch his wife in the arms of another man and then shooting things that they are either near or are wearing.

Which brings up problem number one. Is he firing real bullets? You know, the kind that can kill people? If so, what happens to them after they hit their intended target? The woman holds a cigarette and Flamarion shoots it. Does the bullet keep traveling into the stage wings? Does another stage hand or band drummer bite the dust? Are there holes in the theater walls?

If I'm reading the film correctly, the bullets disappear after hitting a target.

Meet Flamarion's assistants. They're Al (Dan Duryea) and Connie (Mary Beth Hughes) Wallace. Before I go on about their lovey-dovey relationship, let me say a few words about Dan Duryea.

Dan Duryea appears in a lot of films about this time. He's a prototype for Doug McClure and Kurt Russell, only he's a better actor than McClure and not as versatile in comedic roles as Russell. Still, he's better than serviceable as a wide shouldered, thin waisted, love interest who wears hats. He always wears hats!

The warped wedlock of the Warring Wallaces weaves its way to wantonness. The wife loves the husband but can't stand the sight of him. The husband loves the wife but thinks she's a sick, twisted tramp. He's right, but can't help himself.

Enter Eddie. Good looking and younger than Al, Eddie rides a bicycle in a different act of the vaudeville show. He doesn't wear a hat, but Connie's smitten anyway. Al won't let her go. Poor Connie. What's a sick, twisted tramp to do? Well, staying married until the feeling passes certainly isn't a viable option.

So, over the course of a few months, she seduces the isolated, self-reliant Flamarion and talks him into killing Al in an apparent accident during their act. Then, after Flamarion gives her some money until they can meet again, she runs away with Eddie and leaves Flamarion in the lurch.

Since this is film noir, we can expect this sort of behavior.

Now comes problem number two. What I can't fathom is why Flamarion fell for Connie in the first place. Oh, the scenes are written well enough. But, Mary Beth Hughes has all of the desirability of an inflatable doll. Less if you believe "In Every Dream Home a Heartache".

There is no nuance to Mary Beth Hughes' performance. There's no redeeming feature about her that makes you believe that even a teenage boy who thinks only with his testosterone would buy into her spiel. Yet the methodical, obsessive Flamrion does. Poor chump.

Many of the scenes without Mary Beth Hughes are very well done and drip with symbolism. Two come easily to mind.

One occurs when Al needs money. Flamarion advances him a lot of money. There's the assuaging the guilt aspect, of course. But there's also the providing for Al's last meal significance. Very, very nicely done.

The second occurs when Flamarion expects Connie to show up at his hotel room. The anal retentive, perfectionist Von Stroheim/Flamarion dances in response to the lightness of his heart.

"Why not try dancing?"

And the result is...

Irrepressible Lightness of Heart

I'm sorry. I really liked that scene. He's whistling, twirling, and skipping.

It takes a lot of bad to negate Von Stroheim's quirky greatness, but Mary Beth Hughes was up for the challenge and managed to suck the life out of the movie.

Still, she's not in every scene and the movie's worth watching if you don't mind cringing when she shows up.


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