Appellate Judge James A. Stewart travels by boxcar.
"It didn't take me long to appreciate what really makes the world go 'round."
"You can't cheat an honest man" is Mordecai Jones' motto. The con artist in The Flim-Flam Man always looks for the worst in people—and usually finds it, much to his profit. The movie, based on a book by Guy Owen, examines that cynical world view as it offers viewers glimpses of its two protagonists.
It's part of a three-thousand disc limited run from Fox, available only at www.screenarchives.com
Facts of the Case
Army deserter Curley (Michael Sarrazin, The Loves and Times of Scaramouche) hops onto a boxcar, just as he sees Mordecai Jones (George C. Scott, Patton) being thrown off. He soon learns that Mordecai is famous as "The Flim-Flam Man," and Mordecai asks Curley to be his partner. After they steal a car from a nice family with a beautiful daughter (Sue Lyon, Alligator), Curley has second thoughts about a life on the lam.
George C. Scott, in a performance full of small gestures, establishes Mordecai Jones as a career flim-flam man very quickly. The way he handles a deck of cards and a wad of bills (only the top ones are real) would make you steer clear of him. That, apparently, is why he needs a shill. Michael Sarrazin's Curley does the job admirably; it's no surprise that the crowd hanging out at a general store is drawn in when he wins a round of Mordecai's three-card monte game.
Curley has been a rough character—he went AWOL after punching a sergeant—but he's still fairly naive, shocked when Mordecai "borrows" a car from someone who doesn't deserve to be robbed. He actually finds himself drawn to Bonnie Lee, the daughter of the family whose car he stole, and that pushes him to make a decision to go straight and turn himself in. At the same time, he's loyal to Mordecai and doesn't want the flim-flam man to be caught. When justice—in the person of a persistent lawman played by Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H)—catches up to the pair, the emphasis of the movie shifts from a portrait of Mordecai to Curly's decisions as he balances concern for Mordecai with his desire to set things right.
The color still comes through sharply, although there are occasional scratches or marks on the picture. The score, old-fashioned with a few contemporary touches, is clear and bold, even in mono. I don't think these things have been touched up but they're in relatively good shape.
Among the extras, a booklet waxes poetic about The Flim-Flam Man and puts it in the context of the careers of the performers and production people.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the trailer, a lot of attention is given to a chase scene in which Mordecai's driving lays waste to a small town. Interestingly, although this scene starts out well, it eventually goes on too long and proves to be one of the least effective aspects of the movie.
There's also an isolated score track. While some of you might enjoy these, I seldom find much purpose in them.
When Mordecai and Curley are pulling cons on people, it's easy to believe Mordecai's oft-stated cynical world view. However, his neophyte shill soon helps the viewers realize that people aren't all that bad. Yes, there's some thoughtfulness to the story, but not so much that it weighs down the comedy. It's a delight watching George C. Scott bring his character to life, and Michael Serrazin holds his own well.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Isolated Score
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.