Thursday, February 7, 2019

George C. Scott Is the Flim-Flam Man

George C. Scott and Michael Sarrazin.
George C. Scott had a pretty impressive career in the 1960s with Dr. Strangelove, The Hustler, and The List of Adrian Messenger. If you stretch things a bit, you could also count Patton in 1970 and Anatomy of a Murder in 1959. Lost amid these excellent films, though, is one of his finest performances: his portrayal of Mordecai Jones in The Flim-Flam Man (1967).

Army deserter Curley Treadaway (Michael Sarrazin) first encounters the elderly con artist when Mordecai is hurled from a moving train in the rural South. The two men become unlikely partners with Curley serving as the shill for Mordecai's various con games. While Curley has ethical misgivings, his new partner ensures him that he only takes advantage of greedy people.

That's not entirely true, as shown when they "borrow" a red convertible from a nice family whose attractive daughter Bonnie Lee (Sue Lyon) catches Curley's eye. During a police pursuit, the car is destroyed--along with much of a small Carolina town. Curley sneaks back to apologize to Bonnie Lee and discovers they share a mutual attraction. He continues his secret romance with Bonnie Lee while working scams with Mordecai--but she wants Curley to turn himself into the police.

What I haven't mentioned is that George C. Scott was 40 when he played the elderly, gray-haired con artist. It could have easily become a gimmick, but Scott's performance is so masterful that one quickly forgets the age difference between actor and character. His make-up is adequate (though Mordecai's gray hair never moves), but it's Scott's voice and physical gestures that allow him to transform into an old man.

He owns the character, balancing Mordecai's enthusiasm over successfully pulling off a con with his paternal friendship with Curley. He boasts of holding the degree M.B.S., C.S., D.D. in one scene (that's for "Master of Back-Stabbing, Cork-Screwing and Dirty-Dealing"). Then, in another, he reflects, with a tinge of remorse, about how he became bitter toward the human race.

Michael Sarrazin and Sue Lyon.
Michael Sarrazin, in his feature film debut, is appealing as the naive Curley. The rest of the cast is peppered with marvelous veteran character actors, such as: Harry Morgan (the sheriff), Jack Albertson (Bonnie Lee's father), Alice Ghostley (her mother), Albert Salmi (the deputy), and Strother Martin and Slim Pickens as two greedy victims of Mordecai's cons.

Filmed in eastern Kentucky, The Flim-Flam Man is the rare Hollywood film that captures the atmosphere of rural Southern towns and backroads. It's all there on the screen from the signs on the barns to the fields of corn, the trains, the moonshiner's still in the woods, and a small town A&P.

Curley and Mordecai swindle Slim Pickens' tobacco farmer.
I'm not sure why The Flim-Flam Man is little more than a footnote in George C. Scott's filmography. It's well directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empires Strikes Back) and features another perfect Jerry Goldsmith score. Most importantly, it's a great opportunity to see one of the best actors of his generation at the peak of his acting prowess. Scott made some pretty humdrum movies later in his career--but this one is among his best.

8 comments:

  1. You have made me most excited for this movie that doesn't ring any bells at all.

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  2. Great movie, a shame it's not better known.

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    1. Fortunately, it's on FXM twice this month (though one of those times is in the wee hours of the monring).

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  3. George C. Scott did some great work when he was older including Twelve Angry Men. I liked Alice Ghostley on BEWITCHED. She was also on MAYBERRY RFD after Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) left the show. Late in her career Miss Ghostley was nominated for an EMMY for DESIGNING WOMEN. I believe of the cast members that were listed all of them are deceased except Sue Lyon best known for LOLITA.

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    1. George C. Scott did some good later films, but also mediocre ones like THE FORMULA and FIRESTARTER. I suspect those were just to pay te bills.

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  4. Woodrow Parfrey was also in the movie.

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  5. Thanks for the recommendation. I know I'll love Scott in this film.

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  6. I really like “The Flim Flam Man”. I especially enjoy George C. Scott’s interaction with Michael Sarrazin. I was also intrigued with Scott’s makeup which reminded me of the preacher disguise that Kirk Douglas sported in “The List of Adrian Messenger”.

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