One of the Page Turners from the Past you’ll find here on the site is The Ballad of the Flim- Flam Man, by Guy Owen. This wonderful novel became a movie and rather than detail you to death about the flick I’ll just step back and allow Wikipedia to work its magic.
Wikipedia: “The Flim-Flam Man is a 1967 American comedy film directed by Irvin Kershner, starring George C. Scott, Michael Sarrazin and Sue Lyon, based on the novel The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man by Guy Owen. The film boasts a cast of well-known character actors in supporting roles, including Jack Albertson, Slim Pickens, Strother Martin, Harry Morgan and Albert Salmi. The movie is also noted for its jovial musical score by composer Jerry Goldsmith.”
Here’s what Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, “The movie was shot on location, largely in Kentucky, and it gains a real feeling of authenticity. These are real crossroads stores and real wide-eyed rednecks, watching the city slicker shuffle the cards. And a lot of the episodes are hilarious. I announced some time ago, in connection with Casino Royal (1967) I think, that chase scenes had just about had it as laugh-getters in the movies. Wrong again. There is a chase scene in this one that’s a classic. The Flim-Flam man, dressed, as a minister, and his pupil, dressed as an accident victim, steal a car and lead the sheriff on a brilliantly photographed chase down the sidewalks and through the watermelon wagons of the South. There are also some nicely directed scenes in which Scott gradually overcomes the suspicions of his victims, wins their confidence, allows his straight man to win a few bucks and then, oh, so innocently asks a tobacco farmer if he’d care to speculate as to which card was the queen.”
With a tip of the cap to Paul Harvey now you’ll hear the rest of the story. Roger Ebert may have loved it but the author of the book the movie was based on hated the film. Like so many movies based on page turners, it strayed from Owen’s story.
And he was pissed.
I know because he was a great friend of mine, a mentor at NC State University and just one hell of a great guy. I was writing for the Chancellor’s office at the time and took several creative writing courses from Owen. How kind was he? Well, he edited every word of a novel I wrote called The Sand Fiddlers, which, by the way considering the number of rejections I received from numerous New York publishers, was not (even with Owen’s touch) A PAGE TURNER.
Back to the Flim-Flam Man. When George C. Scott was interviewed in the December, 1980, issue of Playboy the question was posed as to Scott’s all-time favorite part. The interviewer’s assumption being that it was, of course, Patton. Scott surprised them by saying, “No, actually it was Mordecai Jones, the Flim-Flam Man.”
So, quite pleased with myself having found this little gift to take to my friend, I walk into his office and say, “Guy, guess what? George C. Scott is quoted in the new Playboy saying that his favorite part wasn’t George Patton, it was the Flim-Flam Man.”
“That’s nice,” Owen said, “Great actor but I hated that *#@**** movie!”