One Hundred Errol Flynn Years
Errol’s tally so far is a century minus half that he’s been gone. A lot got done and undone in those fifty years. Flynn’s acting wears well. He underplayed maybe out of embarrassment for performing in make-up before a camera (like lots of male stars) but would be rewarded by placement (though not in his lifetime) among players audiences won’t laugh at for hamming at heroics (which the Fairbanks’ both Senior and Junior sometimes indulged). I meant this as Part Two of the Flynn splurge over Matzen and Mazzone’s book, but am glad now to have been delayed as here we are at the centennial and I’d hate to have let it go by unheralded. Besides, I’m of an opinion that Errol’s quietly become one of the most popular vintage names still running (often on TCM and in multiple DVD sets). Will demand ever abate for swords and fast horses and charges into valleys of likely death? Action Flynn was a beautifully choreographed instrument. Never mind his own graceful athleticism. Technicians then just knew (so much better) how to stage fast moves. I recently watched the massacre finish of They Died With Their Boots On and there’s three succeeding pairs of cavalrymen and indians fighting to respective deaths minus a single cut. I’m so tired of being faked out by present-day "action" that’s nothing but an inky blur. They’ll argue youth’s preference for faster cutting, but as with cheater musicals side-stepping steps, methinks we're being played for chumps and getting mere suggestions of movement rather than the thing itself. The Bournes and Batmen and even Bond are giving us short change. If I can’t tell what’s going on, then how’s to know it’s anything at all? With the likes of Flynn, you had a sense of participation gone now with keyboards same as one I’m using merely simulating what his generation did for real and often at personal peril.
Flynn was of a restless breed that might have better stayed in Tasmanian wilds. His was jungle instinct brought to bear on an industry ruthless in its way, but no match for an authentic soldier of fortune who’d run slaves and was said to have killed a man back when. Errol sported a cracked moral compass and nary a governor on behavior recognizing no authority. Sans dependents he’d acknowledge as such, there was always possibility of Flynn packing his kit and blowing movies altogether. Chains other actors wrapped themselves in would not contain him. If power in negotiation is willingness to walk away, Flynn had that in abundance. He was like Garbo for unilateral moves indifferent to consequence. Once he split town during a shoot to horn in on Spain’s Civil War. None of his business, of course. Errol probably likened it to diamond smuggling, pearl diving or such enterprise that occupied the larger part of his experience up to then. It’s for sure he wasn’t stupid or even that reckless on approaching a real abyss, for he liked big Hollywood money and would always come back for more of that. To Flynn, living large was the entire goal, and no company man achieves that whatever the riches and fame one’s master bestows. Other players said that if Flynn tried harder, he might be a fine actor. I’d say the opposite was true, for sustained effort was anathema to a free spirit that performed best when studying least. I’d guess Errol judged for himself beginner steps of initial effort as Captain Blood, for he’s remarkably improved in the next, Charge Of The Light Brigade, from which location I’ve read no account of anyone giving him thesping lessons. It was just a matter of sharpening instincts already in play.
For one who could seemingly reach up and touch the masthead, Flynn was surprisingly fragile. He was a walking (sometimes-falling) glossary of tropical diseases. TB and recurrent malaria accompanied overnight stardom. There was also a heart attack, presumably mild enough to allow his remaining in the saddle. That last part was what snickering was about after Errol barely squeaked out of his rape charge. In Like Flynn expressed slangster’s belief that every woman rolled over for Warner’s swordsman extraordinaire, but Errol was too indiscreet to score so mightily as actors who knew better how to keep mouths shut. Reputations might be ruined just talking with him. Women in Flynn’s company were likelier to attempt shakedowns or drag him into court. Companies seeking family business found him awkward selling, these including studios, theatres, magazines --- just about every entrail of then mass media and all dependent upon appeal to conservative values. Warners would like to have traded higher on Bad Boy Errol, but had to be cautious of Code limits and those who’d accuse them of endorsing his dissolute ways, thus even as Don Juan he was chaste and misunderstood. Theater ads (like this one for Never Say Goodbye) might refer to Flynn Aflame Again --- In Trouble Again!, but his image as seducer was quicksand and anyway was never essential to the knight’s image. The loss of that was what cut deepest, for after his acquittal, we’d never think again of Flynn as champion of any noble cause. Dodge City and Santa Fe Trail had been mission westerns with appointed leader EF quelling threats to order. San Antonio twisted that to parody and Silver River was plain grim. Partly it was changing times and natural fatigue over Flynn as continuing uncomplicated hero, but he was damaged goods just the same, a status revealed in ravaged appearance if not in roles he’d now play.
It’s modern viewers who benefit most from Errol’s collapse of nobility. Personal crack-ups and ongoing disintegration broke his career into multiple chapters with much to enjoy in each. Beginner fans like Adventures Of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, and others representing the peak, but seasoned followers caught up in the actor’s bobsled ride are as beguiled with ones he did later. I confess a liking to Silver River, Mara Maru, The Master Of Ballantrae, and others that mirrored Flynn’s growing ambivalence toward straightforward derring-do that had got him by during pre-war (that is, the one waged in court). He’s older, tired, sometimes belligerent. Flynn on and off screen merged by the late forties. He drank more and barely finished assignments. Silver River overflowed its banks to a negative cost of $3.2 million, though it and Escape Me Never were among very few WB Flynns to lose money. They would probably have kept him right through the fifties for profits even declining vehicles brought. The Master Of Ballantrae (last on the star’s contract) showed a million dollar gain. Lost years that followed are represented mostly by films no one’s seen in forever. Some are passed into legend and you begin to wonder if they were actually made. One such is Hello God, which negative was snatched and hidden and said to have turned up at Euro festivals barely attended. The aborted William Tell rests in a vault at Boston University, its donor restriction (Roddy McDowall!) prohibiting exhibition. Whatever rights remain in that and Crossed Swords reside with last wife Patrice Wymore, and who could blame her not wanting to be bothered? Flynn did television his diehard fans have spent years tracing. Sometimes bizarre fragments wash up. One friend sent a hush-hush DVD of Without Incident, a Playhouse 90 from 1957 that was the actor’s final western role. It talked and dragged for a nowhere ninety minutes and put to rest what I’d heard about that Golden Age of Television. Game and talk shows used Flynn for his ability to form sentences (not like stars today) and knowledge on arcane subjects where he played guest "expert." One of his interests was Cuba and its coming revolution. A nation close to his heart for its cockfights and contraband, Errol donned a Cuban flag for a sitdown with Jack Parr (does this footage still exist?). The fade came just after clowning on The Red Skelton Show, of which only a few seconds’ clip has surfaced. Many of us would love seeing the entire episode. A couple of fans approached Red late in that comedian’s life, but what were chances he’d move rakes and lawn mowers to find it? All that’s available for so much of Flynn’s latter output is stills like ones shown here. What's to motivate anyone to locate the rest of it?
Man of a Thousand Portraits --- Here's one in color.
Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland do publicity for Captain Blood
Shooting Another Dawn with Kay Francis
With director and on-set nemesis Michael Curtiz
Theatre Ad for Never Say Goodbye
With Julie London and Ann Sheridan in Without Incident
Partying with Clint Walker and others --- Errol was arrested later that night as a "plain drunk"
Errol explains the Cuban situation to Jack Parr
With Patricia Barry in 1959's The Golden Shanty for TV
Making the Bongo scene on the Skelton show with teen girlfriend Beverly Aadland