Movie Stars: Flynn, Errol–Best Films (Warner DVD)

Tall, athletic, handsome, and virile, Errol Flynn was a major star at Warner for about a decade, beginning with Captain Blood in 1935.

Flynn made a splendid figure as a fearless fighter for justice and a noble hero.

Along with swashbuckling roles, he played gunfighter in Westerns, beginning with “Dodge City” (1939), and brave soldiers in several World War II pictures, most notably “Objective Burma!” (1946).

The new Warner DVD collection consists of six discs, including “The Adventures of Errol Flynn,” a documentary of his tumultuous life, with commentaries from his frequent leading lady Olivia De Havilland and actors Burt Reynolds and Joanne Woodward.

The five films chosen represent the best and most characteristic of Flynn’s specialty, the all but gone adventure film (costumers, Westerns, and war epics). Four of the five pictures are directed by Michael Curtiz, the director who had shaped the most Flynn’s career (until they had a falling out), and one by Raoul Walsh.

Captain Blood (1935)

Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and sound recording, “Captain Blood” was the first of Flynn’s swashbucklers and one of the best, chock full of action and romance. The success of this film encouraged Warner (of which First National was a subsidiary) to find other suitable vehicles for the new romantic team of Flynn and De Havilland, who co-starred in eight of Flynn’s films, six of which are among his most successful vehicles. Flynn and De Havilland, who mostly made action-costume adventures, were a perfect screen couple at the time.

Unjustly transported to the colonies for providing medical aid to rebels against James II, Dr. Peter Blood turns pirate matches swords with French buccaneer Basil Rathborne and woos De Havilland. Flynn was cast in Captain Blood by accident, when reigning star Robert Donat was unavailable. Jack Warner mounted write-in Oscar campaigns for director Michael Curtiz, composer Eric Wolfgang Korngold, and scripter Casey Robinson. ACaptain Blood took third place after Mutiny on the Bounty, the 1935 Oscar winner, and John Ford’s The Informer

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Queen Elizabeth I (Bette Davis) falls in love with Flynn’s Earl of Essex, but after a quarrel, he rebels against her and she is forced to execute him. Lively and entertaining, this historical pageant is less pretentious than later efforts about the British monarchy, such as “Becket” or “The Lion in Winter.”

Warner showed that it knew how to blend swashbuckling with royal intrigues. However, while Davis gives a commanding performance, Flynn is stiff and uncomfortable playing opposite her. Their teaming a year earlier in “The Sisters” didn’t go well; Davis considered Flynn to be a lazy, unprofessional actor.

“Private Lives” was nominated for five Oscars, including photography (Sol Polito and W. Howard Greene), interior decoration, score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold), sound recording, and special effects. Curtiz directed from a script by Norman Reilly Raine and Aeneas MacKenzie, based on Maxwell Anderson’s play, “Elizabeth the Queen.”

Dodge City (1939)

As directed by Curtiz, this is a leisurely but hugely entertaining epic Wesern in its skillful marshalling of stock ingredients. Flynn plays a wagon master turned sheriff, who tames the cattle town at the end of the railroad line with the aid of the crusading newspaper editor’s daughter (again De Havilland). You have seen most of the elements in other Flynn pictures, but the marathon saloon brawl is fun to watch, and the whole film is put together with professionalism.

The Sea Hawk (1940)

Nominated for four Oscars, interior decoration, sound recording, score, and special effects, this popular film cast Flynn as a man who sets out at the behest of Queen Elizabeth (Flora Robson) to make a nuisance of himself with the Spanish. He also has time to woo Brenda Marshall. One of Flynn’s most diverting swashbucklers, the picture contains wonderfully staged action sequences that are given operatic grandeur by reliable composer Korngold. Directed by Curtiz from a script by Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch, this film boast Warner’s splendid troupe of character actors, including Henry Daniell, Claude Rains, Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, James Stephenson and Gilbert Roland.

They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

One of many films to justify Raoul Walsh’s reputation as an action director and master of period flavor. Though a fictionalized account, Walsh turns what’s meant to be a biopic of General George Armstrong Custer (Flynn at his most dashing), from West Point to Little Big Horn, into a glorious Western. Flynn interprets Custer as a tempestuous cavalier, chivalrously dying to save his soldiers. The film boasts the breathless sweep and dash of the last romantic gesture.