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Noir-vember 2013: The Great Flamarion

Posted by martinteller on November 13, 2013

Connie, no matter what you do, you’re the only dame for me.  You’re a bad habit I can’t cure, even if I wanted to.  Any guy that wouldn’t fall for you is either a sucker or he’s dead.

Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim) is an expert marksman.  After being abandoned by a woman several years ago, he throws himself into his work: a vaudeville sharpshooting act.  His assistants in the routine are a married couple: Al (Dan Duryea) and Connie (Mary Beth Hughes) Wallace.  Connie would rather be done with Al, who is a hopeless drunk… and besides, she’s got her eyes on a hunk from the bicycle act: Eddie Wheeler (Steve Barclay).  But Al knows enough about Connie’s past to make it too risky to leave him.  But with Flamarion’s unwitting help, she might be able to find a way out.

Noirs often start at the end, revealing their story in flashback.  The tension of watching thus comes not from seeing what will happen, but how it happens.  The problem here is that even the how is entirely predictable.  As far as plot goes, there are no surprises to be had, especially for anyone who’s seen Scarlet Street or any number of similar tales (including the entire noir output of Hugo Haas, whose every film feels like a variation on this one).

But the devil is in the details, and even in one of his earliest films, Anthony Mann comes up with some sweet details.  Republic Pictures cranked out a lot of B-movies, but this one always maintains a professional look, with sharp editing, above average production value and some wonderful shots (especially at the climax, where I was particularly impressed by a matched pair of push-in zooms).  The story may be routine, but it’s handled with care.  There is an irony to the ending that, although you see it coming from the very beginning, is a fine touch.  And the score by Alexander Laszlo is nicely understated, and put to particularly effective use — again — at the climax.

And then there are the performances.  By all rights, Hughes should have been a star, and her presence adds a lot of heat to The Lady Confesses and Inner Sanctum.  She lights the screen on fire here as a fantastic femme fatale.  A noir doesn’t require a femme fatale to be great, but it sure does help when done right.  Connie is the type of person for whom deception is second nature… she can’t not lie.   Hughes plays it to the hilt, utilizing her sensuality to influence the men in her life, and turns Connie into a pro actress herself.  Maybe not one of Duryea’s best roles, but you can’t help loving the guy (especially when he falls for Connie’s most careless manipulations).  And thank heaven, his drunk acting is well above par.  Stroheim is perfectly fine as well… certainly miles better than Hugo Haas is when he plays practically the same character.  Barclay is a total dud, but he has little screen time so it doesn’t matter too much.

The third act drags a bit before coming to the climax, and as I said, nothing in the story will be unexpected.  Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining take on a very familiar story, with a subversive undercurrent of sexuality.  Rating: Good (75)


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