The Errol Flynn Signature Collection - Volume 1: (Captain Blood / The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex / The Sea Hawk / They Died with Their Boots On / Dodge City / and more)
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Errol Flynn is one of those names that define movie stardom. Chiseled good looks that stopped just short of being preposterous. A brash and jaunty manner that charmed men and women alike. Whiffs of bad-boy scandal offscreen that only enhanced his legend (not for nothing did "In like Flynn" become a national catchphrase!). And enough marquee-worthy titles that in memory's ear ring like classics.
Flynn's stardom wasn't on a par with the richly ambiguous artistry of Cary Grant, or the deep, enduring heroic legacy of John Wayne, or the indelible character work amassed by Flynn's Warner Bros. contemporaries Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson. Still, this most celebrated of Tasmanian devils was a one-of-a-kind, often raffishly entertaining icon of Hollywood in the '30s and '40s who played a big part in making the golden age glow. And for most of us, to say "swashbuckler" is to conjure up Flynn's wolfish grin above a rapier, director Mike Curtiz's wall-filling shadows of dueling men, and the symphonic, trumpet-filled music scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Stardom came swiftly. After two small-part assignments at Warners, the studio awarded Flynn the title role in Captain Blood (1935)--in retrospect, a sort of rough draft for his most beloved movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938; not in this collection). The hero, an Irish-born physician wrongly convicted of treason during the reign of King James, is sentenced to a life of slavery in Jamaica. In short order he's charmed his new master's niece (the bright-eyed Olivia De Havilland, Maid Marian-to-be) and contrived an escape with his rebel comrades to become lusty, albeit passionately populist, buccaneers. The film's budget was clearly limited (there's a stark absence of horizons in the tropic and seagoing scenes), but director Curtiz's camerawork cunningly evokes the ever-present tilting and rolling of life aboard ship. Much-Oscar-nominated, the movie certified Flynn as the Douglas Fairbanks of the sound era--even in blond tresses and without what would become his signatory mustache.
If Captain Blood became the Flynn-Curtiz prototype for swashbucklers, The Sea Hawk was the last, luxury model off the line. Warners was always wired in to the zeitgeist, and this 1940 movie about English privateers saving Queen Elizabeth's island nation from the Spanish Armada does double duty as an in-Der-Fuehrer's-face allegory of the looming world war. No blank horizons here, and every wall sports a towering map of a world ripe for conquest. Slickness is all: Claude Rains and Henry Daniell are impeccably devious diplomats, and Sol Polito's black-and-white cinematography shifts into sultry sepiatone when the Sea Hawks sneak off to the tropics on a transatlantic espionage mission. (As for Flynn's mission, his swashbuckling would hereafter be confined to contemporary war pictures for the duration.)
He also saddled up for some lively Westerns. Dodge City (1939) is a knock-down, drag-out barn-burner in brassy Technicolor, with Flynn as a trail boss reluctantly turned town marshal. Curtiz directs yet again, with flair if not necessarily historical conviction, and the presence of Robin Hood costars Olivia De Havilland and Alan Hale (Little John) is virtually mandatory by this point. Ripe villainy is supplied by Bruce Cabot and--substituting, perhaps, for the un-frontier-worthy Basil Rathbone--the fox-faced Victor Jory.
They Died with Their Boots On (1942) is filled with spectacular Civil War and cavalry action, though its hagiographic treatment of George Armstrong Custer should set historically enlightened viewers on the warpath. Nonetheless, it features Flynn's most interesting performance in the collection. Whereas Curtiz was the ideal director for the star in boy's-own-adventure mode, Raoul Walsh elicited more nuanced work from him (see especially their wonderful Gentleman Jim, not included in this collection), and the scenes between Flynn and Olivia De Havilland achieve a tenderness that deepens with each reel. The magic-hour cinematography is by veteran John Ford cameraman Bert Glennon.
And that--apart from a new documentary feature, The Adventures of Errol Flynn--leaves The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Sad to say, that doesn't leave much. Bette Davis (taking the role Flora Robson played in The Sea Hawk) and Flynn (as the English knight the not-so-Virgin Queen loved but feared as a rival) have zero chemistry; she delivers a mannered performance only a Bette Davis impersonator could love, and Flynn demonstrates how stiff he could be (no pun intended) when clueless about his material. In fairness to both, the movie is a static adaptation of a very repetitious and declamatory Maxwell Anderson play. Its inclusion here is notable only as a vast technical improvement on the long-ago VHS release. --Richard T. Jameson
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Not many character actors could match the heroic characters Errol played.
He was the heroic inspiration of many a man and the movie idol of many a swooning woman.
If you love the charming boldness of a kind but serious actor... Errol Flynn is your man.
These are his heroic movies.
Which I do, you will absolutely love this collection.
It has two of my all time favorites, "They Died with their boots on"
Which is the last film these two made together,
And "Captain Blood" which was their first movie together.
Captain Blood is an absolute delight. Errol plays a Doctor that is wrongly accused
Of Treason, and is sentenced to a life of hard labor. However, fate has a hand in helping him
To become something else, a Pirate.
"They died with their boots on" is more of an entertaining love story
Than about General Armstrong Custer.
I love Errol and Olivia and all their movies together.
Sadly, few of Flynn's films have appeared, thus far, on DVD (the best being a superb "Adventures of Robin Hood" DVD, released last year). This new collection, while a mixed bag, does finally give DVD audiences a chance to savor two signature Flynn performances, in "Captain Blood" (his breakthrough starring role) and "The Sea Hawk" (one of the greatest swashbucklers ever made). The rest of the collection lacks the luster of these films, but are certainly worthwhile; "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" teams Flynn with Bette Davis (who despised him, and fought to get Laurence Olivier for Essex), and, with "The Sea Hawk", shows Flynn playing opposite two very different interpretations of Queen Elizabeth; "They Died with Their Boots On", Raoul Walsh's fanciful biopic of George Armstrong Custer, offers a slam-bang, if inaccurate, version of the Little Big Horn, and the last teaming of Flynn and his favorite leading lady, Olivia de Havilland ("Captain Blood" was their first of eight films together); "Dodge City" represented a major gamble, as Warners had no idea if audiences would accept Tasmanian Flynn as a cowboy in the Old West (they did, and Flynn would make seven more westerns, over the next ten years...actually making more westerns than swashbucklers or war movies!). While I'd have preferred seeing "The Dawn Patrol", "The Adventures of Don Juan", and "The Charge of the Light Brigade", in this collection, the choice of films does show Flynn at his most gloriously handsome!
Best of all, TCM has produced "The Adventures of Errol Flynn", a long-overdue biography, which is included in the package. Along with interviews with his family and friends, including extensive interviews with de Havilland, wives Patrice Wymore and Nora Eddington (in archival footage), and daughter Deirdre, it offers 'behind-the-scenes' footage, private home movies, and material never before seen by the public (including footage from the never-completed "William Tell"), which makes this a 'must' for Flynn fans.
While it will probably be years before all of Errol Flynn's films reach DVD, this collection offers an excellent introduction to a true Hollywood "Original", and is well worth owning!
In "Dodge City" Flynn and de Havilland make us forget they were ever Peter and Arabella or Robin and Marian. As Wade Hatton, Flynn is the softspoken - but strong- gentleman cowboy with manners and demeanor that would charm your great-grandma. I can understand why de Havilland was so unhappy with this assignment-her part is the generic love interest. HOWEVER..she gives it her all, delightful and believable as the intelligent, determined Abbie Irving, and she looks gorgeous. The scene between Flynn and de Havilland in the newspaper office has the spark we expect from these two great stars. Only complaint -not enough scenes of them together. And Flynn should have kissed her in the last scene when she agrees as a new bride to take the next wagon train west so he can clean up another lawless town. Alan Hale is terrific as Flynn's sidekick. Steiner's music is again stirringly beautiful.
"Captain Blood" is fascinatingly wonderful. To watch Flynn burst onto the international scene as a very handsome 26 year old is so much fun. Hard to believe de Havilland is only 19. She holds her own with Flynn and many experienced older actors. And, oh, the way Errol looks at Olivia. In his biography he writes he started to fall in love with her during the filming of "Captain Blood." Watch as he does, then look again at "They Died With Their Boots On." The spark between these two can not be denied.
Why doesn't Warner Brothers release these movies- especially THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD - to the big screen instead of the slasher movies that are released every year between the Oscar broadcast and the summer block-busters? I think they would bring in a large, multi-age audience.
An excellent addition to any video library.