Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Great Flamarion (1945)

The Great Flamarion is an early (1945) film noir directed by Anthony Mann. It belongs to the fairly small sub-genre of noirs with a theatrical setting. The theatrical setting proves to be tailor-made for film noir.

Mann had directed a few movies before this and he was only a couple of years away from making his first really notable movies, T-Men and Raw Deal.

The Great Flamarion is certainly a genuine noir. The story is told in flashback. Flamarion is an authentic noir protagonist, a basically good if unhappy man with one major weakness, a weakness with the potential to lead him to ruin. And this movie most certainly has a full-fledged femme fatale, and a very memorable one too. It also has that characteristic noir sense of impending doom, and it has it in a big way.

It opens in Mexico City in 1936 with a shooting in a theatre, followed by some pretty impressive shots of a man seeking to escape in the scaffolding high above the stage.

We then get that flashback. It all began a few years earlier in Pittsburgh, with the Great Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim) as the headline act in a variety theatre. His act is an elaborate trick-shooting act done as a kind of mini-play. Flamarion is a marksman of uncanny skill. His two assistants, Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes) and her husband Al (Dan Duryea), dice with death at every performance but they have absolute faith in Flamarion.

Al has a drinking problem and his marriage to Connie is not going well. There’s plenty of resentment on both sides. They’re trapped together.

Then Connie goes to Flamarion and confesses that she is in love with him. Flamarion is in general no fool but he is vulnerable when it comes to women. He has had nothing to do with the female sex for fifteen years. He is a lonely man. And Connie is young and beautiful. Flamarion allows himself to be convinced that she really is in love with him.

You can no doubt imagine where this story is leading, and the opening scene is a kind of prologue that gives us a fair idea of where the story is going to end up. Which doesn’t really matter. A film noir doesn’t need a dazzling plot. What it needs is atmosphere and mood, and a sense that the characters cannot escape their fate. It also needs us to care about the fate of the protagonist. It’s an advantage if we know where the plot is going. It reinforces the feeling of creeping doom. In all these areas this movie scores highly.

The three lead cast members are superb. Erich von Stroheim gives a restrained sensitive performance. Flamarion is a curmudgeon but we feel a considerable sympathy for him. Dan Duryea gives a typical Dan Duryea performance. In other words he’s excellent as Al, a man dangerously close to the edge. He also makes us feel that Connie is not being unreasonable in being somewhat afraid of him.

Mary Beth Hughes is a magnificent femme fatale. It’s difficult to imagine any man being able to avoid her snares. She really is the classic spider woman. One can’t help feeling that Mary Beth Hughes should have had a much more distinguished career. In the same year she made The Great Flamarion she had a starring role in The Lady Confesses (and she’s extremely good in that role) but that was a bottom-of-the-barrel PRC cheapie. On the evidence of The Great Flamarion she had a star potential that was never realised.

Mann pulls off a couple of nice set-pieces. The cinematography (by James S. Brown Jr) doesn’t offer full-blown noir night and shadows but that’s compensated to some extent by the seedy glamorous theatrical atmosphere.

It’s possible that The Great Flamarion has been largely ignored even by admirers of Anthony Mann’s work because it fell into the public domain years ago. This is a movie that probably needs a luxury Blu-Ray release in order to raise its profile. It’s more deserving of a Blu-Ray release than many of the movies that have received that treatment recently. This is a very fine Anthony Mann movie with some great acting and it’s highly recommended.


  1. I'm as good an example as any of the film's low profile - despite being a big film noir and Dan Duryea fan, I've yet to see it! Which I will be remedying very shortly.

    1. I'm really puzzled that this movie gets so little attention. Among noir fans Anthony Mann as director and Dan Duryea as actor are pretty big names. And Erich von Stroheim is certainly a big name among cinephiles.

      OK, Mary Beth Hughes is not a big name but based on her performance here she should be - she's a fantastic femme fatale.