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The Flim-Flam Man

The Flim-Flam Man(1967)

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teaser The Flim-Flam Man (1967)

"I try to do something different every time. And I try not to do crap. Neither is easy in this business." - George C. Scott, 1966, in an interview with the New York Times during the production of The Flim-Flam Man. "

The Flim-Flam Man, a comedy about an irascible con artist working the small towns of the Deep South, was indeed different. Dr. Strangelove aside, Scott was known for his dramatic roles on the stage and on screen. He came to the film with Academy Awards nominations for his supporting roles in Anatomy of a Murder and The Hustler as well as two Emmy Award nominations to his credit. For The Flim-Flam Man the 39-year-old actor got the opportunity to play the 70-year-old Mordecai Jones, a legendary confidence man who works the small town rubes of the rural South. "I like him, he's a funny old duck," he told New York Times reporter Brian St. Pierre. "I play the part and get paid what it's worth--I hope. In return, I give it all I've got. I figure it's an even bargain."

"Introducing Michael Sarrazin," reads the credit of the young Canadian actor who plays Curley, the earnest army deserter who becomes Mordeecai's protg and shill. It wasn't actually Sarrazin's debut--he'd appeared in a couple of low-budget films and a TV shows--but it was his first leading role and the film is built on his relationship with Scott's Mordecai and on the character's conflict between his sense of morality and his loyalty to the paternal swindler. Sue Lyon (who made a splash as Lolita) co-stars as the pretty daughter of one of their marks--romance immediately blooms, of course--and the supporting cast is filled with a solid line-up of reliable character actors and screen veterans, including Harry Morgan as the town sheriff, Albert Salmi as his slow-witted deputy, Jack Albertson and Alice Ghostley as Lyon's parents, and Slim Pickens and Strother Martin as easy marks for the veteran hustler.

The New York Times reporter Brian St. Pierre described director Irvin Kershner as "court jester, cheerleader and undisputed boss all at once, Gregory Ratoff sans paunch, Ichabod crane with humanity." That sensibility helps guide the raucous humor of the film. Jerry Goldsmith's score channels the Americana of Aaron Copland to set the sense of place, while a lazy harmonica establishes the comic, laid-back tone.

The film was shot on location in Kentucky over two and a half months. The production team set up their headquarters in Lexington and scouted locations in nearby small towns. The production was delayed when Scott injured his leg playing table tennis and he relied on crutches while it healed. For a few weeks, he was limited to scenes in which he could remain seated or standing upright without moving. Between shots, Scott played chess.

Scott was known for being aloof, friendly but distant from his fellow actors and members of the crew. While they stayed at a Lexington motel, Scott rented a thoroughbred horse ranch just out of town, and during the production he kept company with a small, tight entourage. But he was also a generous man. When a secretary working on the film was killed in a car accident, actor Jack Albertson took up a collection to pay for the funeral. According to Scott's longtime friend Del Acevedo, Scott told Albertson: "[S]end me the bill for the funeral and whatever you collect, give to the family to help them along."

Sources:Rage and Glory: The Volatile Life and Career of George C. Scott, David Sheward. Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2008.
"After The Bible, a Little Flim-Flam," Brian St. Pierre. The New York Times, November 13, 1966.

By Sean Axmaker

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