“You are a bad habit I can’t cure.”
The Great Flamarion is a decent, odd little film with a good story that suffers from clumsy stylistics, but the fact that the film is directed by Anthony Mann is enough to make film buffs want to watch it. The Great Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim) is a sharpshooter who has a stylish act with married couple Al (Dan Duryea) and Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes). As a frame story, the film begins in Mexico in 1936 with Flamarion telling his tale of past passion and jealousy to an interested bystander.
Al is a drunk, and this makes him a liability in the sharpshooter act–especially as he’s supposed to move across the stage with precision timing while Flamarion takes potshots with live rounds. Beautiful Connie is the faithless wife who manages to juggle three men at a time–Flamarion, Al, and the burly bicyclist Eddie Wheeler (Steve Barclay). While Connie keeps her romantic entanglement with Eddie quiet, she plays Flamarion for a fool–pumping him with stories of Al beating her. Flamarion (played stoically by director von Stroheim) at first rejects Connie’s transparent advances, but she’s so persistent, he eventually succumbs to her flattery. In retrospect, Flamarion realizes that “one look in the mirror would have told me I was not for her.”
Flamarion is a believable character, and Dan Duryea is suitably sleazy, but it’s the role of Connie that steals the film and gives the story a noirish feel–her unscrupulous behaviour comes full circle by the film’s conclusion. The main problem with the film is its clumsy beginning and its frame story structure–with Flamarion recounting his tale through flashbacks.