Man! Every one of your suggestions was awesome. But the only one I could actually take, due to availability of resources, came from huckleberry-finn, who suggested not his namesake but Melville—and of course I keep spare Melville novels lying around like fire extinguishers, just in case.
So The Confidence-Man it is. I just read the synopsis again and got joy-shivers. (Plus it sounds an awful lot like the premise of Holy Motors, which I’m going to see in the next day or two anyway.)
Many thanks, people. I’ll have to stock up on Queneau, Wharton, Adrian, and Powell to prevent future episodes.