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The Great Flamarion

The Great Flamarion(1945)

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teaser The Great Flamarion (1945)

A low-budget, 78-minute Republic picture, The Great Flamarion (1945) is most interesting today for the acting presence of Erich von Stroheim and as an early credit for Anthony Mann, soon to hit his stride as one of the great directors of film noir and westerns.

Film historian Jeanine Basinger has written that The Great Flamarion "contains the prototype of what would become the Mann hero - a character whose present is shaped by a scar (or secret) from his past." Von Stroheim plays that character, a vaudeville performer whose specialty is a trick gunshot act, and whose "scar" is a failed romance many years earlier which has left him hating women ever since. His gunshot-act assistants, played by Mary Beth Hughes and Dan Duryea, are married, but Hughes seduces von Stroheim into getting rid of her husband only to then betray him, in true femme fatale style. Von Stroheim winds up learning the hard way what it's like to fall for the wrong woman in one of these movies: miserable.

The Great Flamarion is told via flashback, in a structure not too different from Double Indemnity, released the year before and directed by Billy Wilder. The producer of The Great Flamarion was Billy's brother, William Wilder (who later worked under the credit "W. Lee Wilder"). William would go on to produce another Anthony Mann quickie, Strange Impersonation (1946), and over the next 20 years he produced and directed a number of very low-rung productions. Billy Wilder rarely talked about his brother, and when he did the theme was always the same: "A dull son of a bitch," Billy said of him in 1975. Years later he called him "a fool" who thought he could make it in Hollywood simply because his more famous brother had.

Erich von Stroheim, the famous director of silent pictures, didn't care for non-linear movies and criticized the flashback structure of this film, which he thought was a cheap attempt to make the movie seem "more important." As biographer Arthur Lennig wrote in Stroheim, von Stroheim said, "All my advices were for nothing. The end was the beginning and that was the beginning of the end. Again and again I say that people at large are not interested in a story when they know from the beginning that one of the principal actors is dead."

Von Stroheim and Mann clashed during production of this movie, and Mann later said, "He drove me mad. He was a genius. I'm not a genius, I'm a worker." The Great Flamarion does reveal Anthony Mann beginning to sense how to elevate an ordinary story through expressionistic directing choices. Five movies later, Mann would score his first enduring classic with T-Men (1947).

Producer: W. Lee Wilder
Director: Anthony Mann
Screenplay: Vicki Baum (story), Heinz Herald, Richard Weil, Anne Wigton
Cinematography: James S. Brown, Jr.
Film Editing: John F. Link
Art Direction: Frank Paul Sylos
Music: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Erich von Stroheim (The Great Flamarion), Mary Beth Hughes (Connie Wallace), Dan Duryea (Al Wallace), Steve Barclay (Eddie Wheeler), Lester Allen (Tony), Esther Howard (Cleo).

by Jeremy Arnold

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