Cast & Crew
Erich Von Stroheim
Mary Beth Hughes
In 1936, a performance in a Mexico City vaudeville hall is interrupted by the sound of gunshots emanating from backstage. After the body of Connie Wallace, one of the performers, is found, the police investigate and arrest Eddie Wheeler, her husband, for strangling her. Following the departure of the police, Tony, the clown, is collecting his stage props when a man with gunshot wounds falls from the rafters. Tony recognizes the man as "The Great Flamarion," a former vaudeville marksman renowned for his skill. Certain that he will die before the police arrive, Flamarion reveals to Tony why he, and not Eddie, murdered Connie: Some time before in Pittsburgh, Flamarion worked the vaudeville circuit, with Connie and her then husband, Al Wallace, as his assistants. Connie, a scheming confidence woman always searching for an angle, tires of Al, who is weak and perpetually drunk. Determined to better her situation by using Flamarion, Connie entraps him in a love affair, seducing him despite his long-standing mistrust of women. While Connie is trying to convince Flamarion that Al must be killed because he will never divorce her, she is also having an affair with Eddie, who does a bicycle act on the same bill with them. One night, Connie finally persuades Flamarion to kill Al, and the following Saturday, Flamarion shoots Al during a performance. The coroner's inquest determines that Al was drunk during the show and that Flamarion killed him accidentally. The love-addled Flamarion wants to leave immediately with Connie, but she tells him that they must wait to avoid arousing suspicion. Instructing him to meet her in Chicago in three months, Connie tells Flamarion that she is going to live with her mother, but actually, she leaves with Eddie for a year-long tour of Central America, during which time they are married. Three months later, Flamarion arrives at the appointed meeting place and is crushed when Connie does not appear. He discovers that the address she gave him for her mother does not exist and then begins searching for her. After Flamarion has lost all his money and has even pawned his prized pistols, he learns from Cleo, another performer, that Connie is in Mexico City with Eddie. Flamarion travels there and confronts Connie in her backstage dressing room. Connie desperately tries to convince Flamarion that it has all been a mistake and that she will go away with him, but the weary marksman knows that she is lying again. Although she wrests his gun away from him and shoots him, he strangles her before climbing to the rafters to hide. His story finished, Flamarion dies in Tony's arms as the police arrive.
Erich Von Stroheim
Mary Beth Hughes
John R. Hamilton
James S. Brown Jr.
F. Paul Sylos
Glen P. Thompson
The Great Flamarion
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
The Great Flamarion
The working titles of this film were Dead Pigeon and Strange Affair. The picture marked the debut of William Wilder as a motion picture producer. Wilder, who was sometimes credited as W. Lee Wilder on his later films, was an "eastern industrialist," according to a September 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, and was the brother of director Billy Wilder.