Monday, October 15, 2007

The Films of Errol Flynn

Last night on TCM, I watched FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK, an Errol Flynn comedy that I had long wanted to see. A lighthearted mystery, the picture surrounded the handsome actor with a veteran cast of scene stealers including Alan Hale, Bill Frawley, Allen Jenkins and Roscoe Karns. Leading lady was Brenda Marshall whom host Robert Osborne took great pains to say was NOT "romanced" by Flynn (Oh, SHE was the one!).
One of the great early books that founded our Library here was Citadel’s THE FILMS OF ERROL FLYNN. This 1969 book, featuring an introduction by the actor’s former co-star Greer Garson, came just ten years after his death and offered a good overview of his career and a non-sensationalized look at the ups and downs of his hedonistic life.
I discovered Flynn one Sunday afternoon in the mid-seventies via an unexpected airing of CAPTAIN BLOOD, his seminal swashbuckler. I remember thinking that this guy was great! Good-looking, funny and tough when he needed to be. Soon afterwards, I discovered him as Robin Hood and I was hooked for life. Flynn excelled in heroic roles whether it be as a pirate, a swordsman, a cowboy (with an unlikely accent), a soldier or a detective. He was, however, also a joy to watch in comedic roles with his expressive face and wry delivery.
He aged quickly, however, due to a life of excess that included messy marriages, lots of substance abuse and accusations of rape that negatively affected his image and his career. By all accounts not above such behavior, the prevailing thought is that he was NOT guilty in the situations for which he was tried and the jury agreed. Nonetheless the expression, "In like Flynn" fell into the public consciousness as an underground "Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink." kind of thing.
His last years were spent struggling for acceptance outside the bottle which he achieved via an acclaimed performance in a character part in THE SUN ALSO RISES. Unfortunately, he died soon after making one of the most self-indulgent pieces of celluloid drek ever, 1959’s CUBAN REBEL GIRLS. In that vanity project (done, according to the book, as a tax write-off), the former swashbuckling hero awkwardly portrays himself as a reporter covering Castro’s revolution in Cuba. His teenage mistress Beverly Aadland (formerly a contestant on YOU BET YOUR LIFE) co-stars and the short waste of film was produced by Flynn’s sometime filmmaking partner (and later pornographer) Barry Mahon.
He died just after I was born. He looked at least a decade older than he was. His posthumous autobiography MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS (no doubt ghostwritten through an alcoholic haze) played on his scandals and subsequent, questionable bios made him out to be a Nazi sympathizer! A sad story, it’s true, but at his heights (and there were many!), nobody then or since played a movie hero as well as Errol Flynn. He turns up on cable quite a bit these days, mostly in his best vehicles. You’d do well to check him out if you aren’t already a fan!


  1. Coincidently I've just picked up the UK version of the Errol Flynn box set from Warners - at a bargin basement discount on Amazon UK (along with the Cagney boxset and the Thin Man movies). It misses some of the extras on the US release, but they're not essentials.

    Having a great time revisiting all his swashbucklers which I loved as a kid - I'd forgotten what absolutely brilliant fun Captain Blood was! (Not to mention Olivia DeHavilland - ai caramba...)

  2. (...still, I'd also like to track down a watchable copy of Cuban Rebel Girls nonetheless...)

  3. Anonymous1:38 AM

    i recently watched Desperate Journey on TCM. Flynn and Ronald Reagan (and Alan Hale!).

    The description of the movie on Direct TV described it as a WW II British bomber crew being shot down and later stealing Goering's car.
    [yeah, like they're going to drive that to Birmingham]

    The film was set just prior to America's entering the war.
    I just had to see this movie...but the info was a bit off.
    Their bomber is shot down. 5 of 7 crew members survive (2 injured though).
    At one point they steal a ride on a secret train of German wounded (from the Russian Front!) and they are relaxing (in German uniforms!) in Goering's Private TRAIN CAR.
    Oh, that kind of car.....

    They were the luckiest bunch ever shot down until Hogan's Heroes.
    It's at times a serious movie but for the most part it's a long chase film.
    Desperate Journey....catch it some time on Turner Classic Movies.

    Alan B.