Bookending Anthony Mann, 2 Movies: The Great Flamarion (1945) and A Dandy In Aspic (1968)

I’ve always liked Anthony Mann’s directorial work, especially the old cheap noirs he mostly started his career with, as well as the string of westerns he did throughout the 1950s. While deciding to work my way through his later 1960s material by beginning with his final film, 1968’s A Dandy In Aspic, I also wanted to go back and hunt out any other noirs or westerns I might have missed out on.

The late 40s-early 50s noirs like Raw Deal or Border Incident are especially good, so I thought I’d check out an earlier cheapie from his catalogue, 1945’s The Great Flamarion, with Erich Von Stroheim, Mary Beth Hughes and Dan Duryea.

Told in flashback, this one has a nice creepy vibe throughout. Von Stroheim tells us the story of how he fell prey to scheming femme fatale Mary Beth Hughes. It’s weird to watch Von Stroheim as a would-be romantic in this movie, especially knowing all the entertaining stuff about his real life escapades, never mind not being able to blot out the image of him playing Max in Sunset Boulevard every time he turns up on screen.

And the vaudeville act he does will make yer skin crawl! Hughes and her husband (Duryea) pantomime a wife & her lover sharing a drink, but then in what is supposed to be comedy, the angry husband returns (Von Stroheim) and his sharpshooting act begins.

He takes out his pistols and shoots the tips off their ciggies, their drinks, shoots all around a weirdly-slow bobbing and weaving Duryea before chasing him off stage with the shots, and finally shooting off the straps of the wife’s dress before making up on their way to the bedroom. And if that isn’t creepazoid enough. Von Stroheim plays it all totally unemotional and mechanical. He’s an unfeeling sharpshooting expert robot.

Ah, but that’s the weakness Hughes can exploit! Offer the old lech loooove, make sure her hard-drinkin’ whiny husband is super drunk on stage, and then claim his timing was off when Von Stroheim shoots him to run off with Hughes. And then it goes on from there.

Von Stroheim is very good as the man used & betrayed and Hughes makes a decent temptress. And as predictable as it all was, it still seemed a little different. Mann would get better at this genre as he’d go along, helped by more atmospheric photography by John Alton and stronger conflicts and nastier villains like Raymond Burr setting things on fire or Charles McGraw grinding people up with threshers. But it’s a nice start.

Unfortunately his final film, A Dandy In Aspic, is sort of a mess despite some decent moments here and there. It’s one of many late 1960s anti-Bond spy films, depicting the dreariness, hypocrisy and loneliness of the international Cold War agent, akin to my earlier viewing of The Quiller Memorandum or material like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold or Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer material.

Laurence Harvey plays a British/Soviet double agent who wants out, but he’s tasked with assassinating a Soviet agent who is actually…. himself. A good premise, but a dreary and often choppy mod-1960s edited feature, where you lose interest in a lot of the characters. Tom Courtenay plays an angry sociopathic fellow agent (and looks way too much like Martin Freeman, something I never noticed before). Mia Farrow, in her screen debut, plays the freethinking photographer who Harvey romances but isn’t sure he can trust. Peter Cook has a nice small role as a randy agent git, to put it in British terms. And Lionel Stander plays a Soviet agent with a wonderful precognitive Yakov Smirnoff impression.

Bonus points for knowing Stander was blacklisted after being labeled a commie, too!

Mann died of a heart attack in the middle of filming, and Harvey took over direction. Evidently the writer of the novel/screenplay was not pleased with Harvey’s changes, though without reading the book it’s difficult to surmise what those changes are. Harvey directed the final scenes, and they are pretty lame, I have to say. But maybe the book ended the same way, I dunno. The story itself has potential, but moves slowly, isn’t always logical, and we just don’t care one whit for the supposed love story. All I can say is that I’ve seen better Mann films (like Flamarion, actually), and I look forward to checking others off my list that have better reviews in imdb.


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