22 March 2006 | theowinthrop
The Greatest Con Man
George C. Scott's initial film performances were usually quite dark ones, such as the forceful District Attorney in ANATOMY OF A MURDER or the cynical billiard player manager in THE HUSTLER. In 1964 he showed that he could be hysterically funny and still a dark figure in the film DR. STRANGELOVE as General "Buck" Turgidson. Turgidson is able to suggest that a mistakenly ordered attack on the U.S.S.R. with nuclear weapons should be followed up by a real sneak attack to finish off the "Ruskies", but he is capable of also getting so carried away with his fascination and love of flying that he can picture the formation of the fliers on the mistaken attack as beautifully skillful and trained to avoid being shot down - until he realizes they have to be shot down. It was a wonderful performance, and showed that he had a great sense of timing and comic rhythm. But it was not until 1967 that Scott got a comedy role that was not so dark. So instead of being one of the madmen who cause the world to come to an end, he played Mordecai Jones, the ace con-man of the modern age, who shows his young disciple Curley how corrupt the world is.
Scott went to town here as the grifter, cheating the likes of Slim Pickens (with the found wallet trick) and Strother Martin with an expensive gambling game that Michael Sarrazin (Curley) learns how to play for the prizes. He also manages to make life difficult for Jack Albertson and Alice Ghostley, whose daughter (Sue Lyon)ends up romantically tied to Sarrazin. Finally there are the guardians of the law, Harry Morgan and Albert Salmi, always one step away from catching Scott and Sarrazin (listen to Morgan's ridiculous conclusion that the two grifters fled across a deep river with a special boat - you can never hear the word "amphibious" again without smiling). The film reaches a climax when Scott is accidentally captured. But will Sarrazin demonstrate he has learned enough about con-games from the master to rescue "Ole Mordecai"?
An entertaining comedy, and another worthy performance by Scott in his film career.