Never Say Goodbye
The war years had been a boom time for Hollywood, and the money kept rolling as soldiers returned home and went on dates/benders/tried to deal with their PTSD. They would soon settle in the suburbs, start raising their selfish children and spend their money on televisions instead of movie tickets, causing box office figures to go into a forty-year decline – but in 1946, eighty million Americans went to the pictures at least once a week (some context: the population was around 140 million).
There was so much cash being made that Warner Bros allowed Flynn to not only reduce his work load, but to star in his first comedy since 1941, Never Say Goodbye (1946), directed by someone called James V. Kern and co-written by later Billy Wilder collaborator, IAL Diamond.
No one much talks about this movie these days, but it’s fun and charming with the star in terrific form, playing a father for the first time in his career. It does have major story problems, as can be ascertained simply by reciting the synopsis: we start with Errol celebrating a year’s divorce from the beautiful Eleanor Parker; they broke up because of Errol’s infidelity (go figure) and Parker’s nagging mother, but they still love each other, he wants her back and she feels the same way… until she busts him dining with a blonde. They separate again over Christmas, Errol crashes Parker’s Christmas celebrations and wins her back over the attentions of a nerdy lawyer… only to have the blonde turn up again. The third act kicks off with the arrival of a beefy soldier (Forrest Tucker) whom Errol’s daughter (Patti Brady) has been writing to under an assumed name – hang on, isn’t this the plot of Dear Ruth? Why wait til now to introduce him? So Errol gets jealous and blah blah… but isn’t the basic problem Errol’s infidelity? And does anyone think this is going to change after he and Parker get back together?
This film would have worked better if Errol and Parker had broken up for a fixable reason i.e. a misunderstanding or Parker’s conniving mother – otherwise it’s a hollow victory when they reunite because their problems aren’t going to go away (he’s just going to start cheating again). Also, there’s no “spine” to the story; most remarriage comedies use the same structure – one of them is getting married to an inappropriate partner (usually played by Ralph Bellamy) and the other has to stop it – and I don’t know why they didn’t do that here, instead of the episodic construction they do employ (Parker clearly never really likes Forrest Tucker romantically, she just uses him to make Errol jealous).
Flynn is perfectly cast as the womanising artist, full of charm and bounce, still very handsome. He goes all-out in his performance: he does the “mirror routine” with another actor (both dressed as Santas), he sings, does backflips, makes bird sounds, cracks a joke about Robin Hood, impersonates Humphrey Bogart (the real Bogart’s voice dubbed in), does scenes with a child actor. Just like The Perfect Specimen and Four’s a Crowd and Footsteps in the Dark, one simply wishes the script had been better.
Parker is pretty and likeable as his ex-wife, though she plays a ninny: it is a bit gutless of her to keep going back to Errol. I would have loved to have seen Parker as her character from Scaramouche (1953) play opposite Flynn – now that would have been something special. Nonetheless, it’s a cheerful piece which Flynn/Parker fans should enjoy. It disappointed at the box office – audiences didn’t mind Flynn in a mediocre Western but they didn’t enjoy him in a so-so comedy; the studio never tried him in that genre again, except for a gag cameo at the end of all-star musical It’s a Great Feeling (1949).
Watch Flynn impersonate Bogie (well, be dubbed by Bogie) in the film below.
Escape Me Never
Flynn’s next film was perhaps the worst one he made at Warner Bros: a melodrama called Escape Me Never (1947). If you ever see this, you’re likely to wonder (a) how the hell it got made and (b) what’s with all the lederhosen? It might help to know it was based on a play (from a Margaret Kennedy novel) that had been popular on the West End and Broadway, and was filmed in 1935 with Elisabeth Bergner. Kennedy’s original novel was a follow up to her earlier The Constant Nymph, which Warners had adapted into a 1943 movie with Joan Fontaine that was supposed to have co-starred Flynn (Charles Boyer took over the part instead), and made money. So, this is a quasi-sequel to a hit, that’s why it was made.
It shouldn’t have been. Or at least, not so ineptly. I still haven’t found a decent explanation for all the lederhosen.
The film is set in Venice, 1900, and is about two brothers (Flynn and Gig Young) who wish to be composers; Young is having an affair with wealthy Eleanor Parker while Flynn lives platonically (ha!) with an impoverished single mother (Ida Lupino). Young loves Parker who loves Flynn who loves Parker but is loved by Lupino; Lupino and Flynn get fake married, but Flynn loves Parker until Lupino’s baby dies which makes Flynn realise he loves Lupino.
Errol is well cast as a bohemian free spirit who’s selfish and a womaniser – though we never really see him be a real bastard. (It might have been a better film if he had; like The Sisters, the dramatic punches are pulled). He does take off with Parker towards the end and Lupino’s child dies (a genuinely shocking moment), and this incident is meant to make him reform, but the way the film is structured, the kid’s death isn’t really his fault… if anyone’s to blame it’s Lupino for not getting medical help earlier – and Parker is hot and wants him, what do you expect a guy to do? Flynn is less believable as a composer, however – I know in real life he was a writer, but he’s not convincing hanging around orchestras and talking to actors. He’s not helped by playing the role without his moustache and being in too many scenes wearing that lederhosen.
At least Flynn is better than Ida Lupino, a fine actor who is horribly miscast here, being too modern and American to believably play the widowed mother. In Lupino’s defence, she is forced to wear lederhosen as well and her character is all over the shop: she is part independent – when Errol takes off, she insists on coming along; part door mat – she wants Errol no matter what. They throw in a few lines where Lupino says she and Flynn are just friends, to which you go “yeah right” – it’s fairly obvious they’re having power-imbalance sex (why else would a selfish womaniser allow a struggling single mother to live with him? For friendship? Free washing?)
The best of the cast is Eleanor Parker, who not only gives a solid performance but is stunningly beautiful – Parker was at least three times as good looking when in period costume (#unscientificmethod) and her scenes with Errol have genuine heat – so much so that towards the end it’s not believable when they don’t get together. Errol and Lupino seem like friends with benefits (you sense he only gets with her at the end out of obligation) but Errol and Parker feel like the real deal. The movie would have been better had Parker and Lupino swapped roles.
This feels as if it should be a musical – there are times when you swear the characters are about to sing, like when Errol and Young decide to leave, and when Lupino cuddles her baby after he goes. It could have done with more music (there’s not much in it for a film about composers); it definitely doesn’t work as a drama.
Warners might have been able to pull off this sort of story during the studio’s great days when Daryl F Zanuck or Hal Wallis were head of production, but those times had passed; maybe a strong director could have made it work too, like Edmund Goulding, who had done The Constant Nymph – but Peter Godfrey sinks to the occasion. Not even a score by Eric Wolfgang Korngold can save it.
The studio sensed, accurately, they had made a dud and delayed the film’s release for a number of months – Cry Wolf, made after Escape Me Never, was released before it. It didn’t help – the movie lost a lot of money for Warners. It deserved to.
A ballet sequence from the movie below.
To their credit, Warners continued to try Flynn in different genres: Cry Wolf (1947) was a “Jane Eyre”-style gothic thriller starring Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who comes to stay at an Old Dark House where there is a secret; Flynn has a Rochester-type role as the mysterious man of the house. There’s a will dispute, an old family, creepy servants, screams at night, a mysterious lab… all good stock stuff.
This is a Stanwyck movie more than a Flynn one – the novel on which it was based was bought as a vehicle for her – and she is very likeable and sensible… although a weaker/younger/more clearly neurotic actor may have added to the tension (eg Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase) because Stanwyck can clearly handle herself – even poking around a locked lab at one in the morning you don’t feel too worried for her.
Errol is very effective in an atypical role – slightly aloof, cold, sinister… I can’t help imagine that maybe he was channeling his father, or some other patriarchal family member. The actor’s hard living off screen was catching up to him – this movie was when he started to look old.
This was the second “Thomson Production” from Flynn’s unit within the studio (the first had been Uncertain Glory). I am not sure how much creative control he had on the film, but feel that it’s significant that he chose this and not, say, Never Say Goodbye or Escape Me Never to be a Thomson Production – he clearly had a feeling for atmospheric mysteries, as shown by the movie he later wrote and starred in, The Adventures of Captain Fabian, and the fact that he appeared in a stage production of Jane Eyre.
Geraldine Brooks and Richard Basehart offer strong support but Peter Godfrey’s direction is workmanlike rather than spectacular – you can’t help wishing someone really skilled at film noir had been asked to do it, like Fritz Lang or Robert Siodmak. It’s also a shame that the romance between Flynn and Stanwyck couldn’t have been stronger, or at least been given some Bronte-style complexity.
The film was a minor success at the box office – its relatively low cost meant it was likely profitable. Thomson Productions made no more movies, but Flynn would not give up on his desire to produce (which ultimately had disastrous consequences).
The Cruise of the Zaca and Deep Sea Fishing
Following completion of Cry Wolf, Flynn took a long cruise from Los Angeles down the Pacific coast through to the Caribbean on board his yacht, the “Zaca”. He had bought this boat the previous year, replacing an earlier yacht, “Sirocco”, which was mentioned often during his rape trial and was immortalised in song by Australian Crawl. This wasn’t any old ordinary trip – Flynn also took along his father and some scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who used the opportunity to do marine research.
Some writers unkindly suggested Flynn was chiefly motivated to claim the cruise as a tax write off; I’m sure he tried to wrangle whatever financial advantage he could, but I feel he mostly did the trip to bond with his father (who he admired, while he loathed his mother) and adventure with a purpose. Others on the expedition included wife Nora and friends such as Howard Hill and John Decke Flynn, who bought some cameras along and turned the footage into two documentaries which he directed, The Cruise of the Zaca and Deep Sea Fishing.
The trip had numerous interruptions. In Acapulco, “Zaca” was hired by Orson Welles to be used as a boat in The Lady from Shanghai (1947). In Jamaica, Flynn bought property on Navy Island that would be his other dream house.
Both documentaries took a number of years to be finished, in part because the footage was caught up in the legal hassles of his eventual divorce to Nora, in part because they included footage from later trips; I’m also inclined to assume Flynn was slack about completing them. Warner Bros picked up Zaca for distribution and ensured it was quite widely seen in cinemas around 1952-53 as a supporting attraction. Deep Sea Fishing did not have the same after life, but is easy to track down today.
The Cruise of the Zaca is not a bad little movie – mostly a travelogue to be sure, but a travelogue starring Errol Flynn, and it’s a fascinating insight to the sailing aspect of his life. It has memorable moments like Flynn (his hair grown long for a film) being picked up from his Mulholland Place house in a helicopter, Flynn falling out of the helicopter in the water, and Flynn’s father mucking around on the boat.
A copy of the film is on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/zaca/336111163
Deep Sea Fishing is less interesting, because it is basically just Flynn and Howard Hill going on a fishing trip. Still, it will be of interest to Flynn fans, and it’s a shame the actor did not make more travelogues – it was an excellent way to combine his creativity with a love of adventure. All that filming probably got in the way of his drinking, though.
A copy of Deep Sea Fishing is below.
This was a fertile period for Flynn creatively – he was playing a variety of roles, making documentaries, doing a lot of travelling and buying property to develop; he had also finished a second novel, Showdown which was published in 1946. It was also a time when his marriage to Nora was disintegrating, in part due to his increasing addiction to alcohol and drugs.
You can find the Showdown novel here: https://archive.org/details/ErrolFlynnShowdown
Flynn’s movie career wasn’t going particularly well, either. His unsuccessful attempts to broaden his range with the three films he made after the war saw his position on the Warners lot supplanted by stars such as Humphrey Bogart and (don’t laugh but it was true at the time) Dennis Morgan. Jack Warner, who frequently clashed with Flynn but always had a soft spot for him, in part because the actor became an overnight star at his studio, decided to reinvigorate Flynn’s career by casting him in the two genres that had never failed: a Western and a swashbuckler.
Silver River (1948), a Western co-starring Ann Sheridan and directed by Raoul Walsh, was based on a story by Stephen Longstreet which in turn was based on the David and Bathsheba story in the Bible – which is actually a terrific idea for a Western. It’s a melodrama about the redemption of a scoundrel rather than an action movie – closer to The Sisters than San Antonio – but there’s no reason why it couldn’t have worked: there’s an exciting setting (silver mining country post-Civil War), Sheridan was an ideal-on-paper match for Flynn (her screen presence was equal to his and in real life they were mates, both feisty hard drinkers with terrible luck at marriage), the budget was extremely generous, the concept was strong.
But this is a poor movie. After an exciting opening sequence set during the Civil War (which feels like it was tacked on to jazz things up after an unsuccessful preview because it doesn’t have that much to do with the plot), the story slows down and becomes this weird slog. “David and Bathsheba out west” should have worked; you can easily imagine how it could have been dramatised… shoot outs, mine collapses, sexual tension between Flynn and Sheridan, guilt-riddled sex/kissing, karma, redemption… all that good stuff.
But there’s hardly any of that in the this film – there’s little action, we hardly spend any time at the mines, Barton MacLane’s villain is underwhelming (I’m still not sure why he was bad, exactly), Flynn’s pursuit of Sheridan seems like obligatory sexual harassment rather than tormented lust, Sheridan never seems that interested in Flynn and appears completely indifferent to her husband, there’s too many scenes of men standing around talking about mines or Errol walking through rooms or Thomas Mitchell monologuing while drunk.
It’s stressful to see Flynn play such an unsympathetic character – I’m not sure if this was because I wasn’t used to it, or because he simply doesn’t do that much. I think the latter: anti-heroes are fine to watch if they’re compelling but Flynn’s character doesn’t do that much. The hugely successful 20th Century Fox version of David and Bathsheba (1951) showed how to tell that story – this one is an example of how not to do it.
Most of the problem was the script, but another was Flynn’s behaviour on set. By now he had started drinking during the day (one of his techniques was, famously, injecting oranges with vodka and munching on them), and by the afternoon was in full wobble mode; acting alongside the equally boozy Sheridan did not help. Raoul Walsh was so upset by the unprofessional antics of Flynn that he never worked with his former friend again.
Warners tried to pump life into the flaccid screenplay by throwing in huge sets and scores of extras – it is as over produced as any of Flynn’s earlier Westerns. This, in addition to the antics of the stars, drove the budget north of $3 million, making it comfortably Flynn’s most expensive movie to date – even more than all his pictures set on water!
The star power of Flynn in a Western plus Sheridan’s appeal still brought in customers – Silver City was the star’s biggest hit since San Antonio. Due to its high cost though, it likely lost money.
This trailer gives some idea of the film’s spectacle, if not its dull-ness.
The Adventures of Don Juan
John Barrymore had a starred in a silent-era swashbuckler Don Juan (1926) for Warner Bros, and Errol Flynn had been linked to a remake since he became a star. Versions came close to being made in 1939 and 1945 but the project kept being delayed for various reasons including concerns about the cost and getting a script everyone was happy with. In 1947, Warners reissued a double bill of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk to tremendous public response which prompted the studio to finally assign their gun producer to the project: Jerry “inspiration for What Makes Sammy Run?’ Wald. The result was The Adventures of Don Juan (1948), a magnificent return to form for Flynn and one of the best swashbucklers ever made.
Warners stumped up a healthy budget, brought back some old faces (Alan Hale as a sidekick, Una O’Connor as a lady in waiting) and created a script that beautifully incorporates the damage time has done to Errol – he’s a little bit old and weary now, has done a lot of hard living, but that’s totally appropriate for Don Juan (Flynn wouldn’t have been as good playing this ten years earlier when he was all shiny teeth and healthy limbs).
This is a very adult swashbuckler for 1948; there are some hilarious lines in the script, mostly involving Don Juan seducing women (they are all super keen, indeed they usually initiate it – the movie doesn’t have a rape-y vibe at all), and the transition from irresponsible playboy to patriot is extremely well done. There is some decent historical background (it’s set at the court of Phillip II and Margaret, with Don trying to stop an evil count creating war against England – we couldn’t have had Errol fighting the Poms), a wisecracking dwarf and weak king. Robert Douglas is a superb villain worthy of Henry Daniell/Basil Rathbone and he and Flynn have a spectacular final duel; Raymond Burr is also good value as Douglas’ nasty sidekick. There’s lots of comedy, colour and costumes, Max Steiner’s score is among his most rousing, and the sets are stunning.
The major drawback is Viveca Lindfors as the Queen of Spain; she tries hard but there’s no X factor there – it’s a shame Olivia de Havilland couldn’t be enticed back for one last reunion. Better value are the other Don Juan-hungry women: Ann Rutherford (Andy Hardy’s old sweetheart), Helen Westcott and Nora Eddington (Flynn’s wife, who is in the final scene). Another debit is the fact that Don Juan is fighting for peace rather than freedom from oppression – it’s a lot harder to get excited about maintaining the status quo than an uprising.
Still, this is a really fun movie – whenever I watch it I just keep smiling. It has a genuine magic about it – something Flynn’s movies had been missing since Gentleman Jim… If he’d made a few more movies with Wald the next decade would have been entirely different for the actor.
It’s not likely Wald would have wanted to do this, though – Flynn was troublesome throughout the shoot yet again, plagued by his drinking and ill health. He missed 64 days of filming, helping blow out the production cost to $3.4 million, setting a new record for the most expensive Errol Flynn movie of all time. Blockbuster success might have cleansed all sins and Don Juan went on to be a huge success in Europe, but only a moderate one in the US. It is unlikely to have been too profitable.
The final sword fight is below.
Jack Warner was annoyed – justifiably I feel (Warner was a notorious bully and penny-pincher who could treat his stars sadistically, but when it came to dealing with Flynn, I have nothing but sympathy). Warner still recognised Flynn’s name had box office appeal and after making Don Juan, they signed the actor to a non-exclusive fourteen year contract at $200,000 a film. But from now on there were to be no more big budgets, no more extended shoots, no more non-action movies. He gave roles that had been earmarked for Flynn to other actors – notably Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), long announced for the Tasmanian, ultimately made with Gregory Peck… and became Warners’ most popular movie of 1951. To rub it in, Warners also financed a series of expensive swashbucklers starring the acrobat-turned-actor Burt Lancaster which were all huge hits: The Flame and the Arrow (1950), The Crimson Pirate (1952), South Sea Woman (1953) and His Majesty O’Keefe (1954).
That Forsyte Woman
Flynn had not worked outside Warners since arriving in the US – the studio wanted to keep their big star close to home – but time made the heart less fond, and in 1947 they arranged to loan him out to MGM in exchange for using MGM’s William Powell in their Life with Father (1947). It took a number of years to tee up a project that everyone was happy with before they settled on That Forsyte Woman (1949).
This movie was an adaptation of the novel A Man of Property, book one of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, which had been in development at the studio for almost a decade. It’s weird that MGM selected this for Flynn, best known for his action roles. Maybe they thought “well, he didn’t do well in dramas at Warners but we’re MGM, the leading studio in Hollywood, we know how to treat stars”. The thing is, MGM were in what turned out to be terminal creative decline, as exemplified by this film. Still it’s definitely not without interest.
The story, set in old time-y London, is about Irene (Greer Garson), who is unhappily married to the wealthy lawyer Soames (Flynn) and falls for an architect (Robert Young) despite him being engaged to Soames’ niece June (Janet Leigh), while June’s father, artist Jolyon (Walter Pidgeon) pants over Irene from a distance.
This is perhaps Flynn’s most famous “capital-A-Acting” performance with Soames being stuffy, uptight, money-hungry – and it’s got to be said Flynn handles it very well – it’s not a fantastic performance but it’s a very good one, cruel yet sympathetic… I felt for him at the end, all alone in his misery and self-righteous pride; I think Flynn knew a few Soameses in his life. A lot of critics commented on this being a big change of pace, but it wasn’t too far from his work in Cry Wolf – it’s just not a lot of people saw that movie compared to this one.
Flynn’s certainly a lot better than Walter Pigeon and Robert Young are in their parts, either of which Flynn could have played with more skill (indeed, apparently, he was offered both roles but turned them down to do Soames). Pigeon just gets by, if only because he’s not on screen very long, but Young just shouldn’t have been in the film – he’s terrible; when he declares his love for Garson, it’s laughable – his relationship with her should be a core of the film but instead you shift all your sympathy over to Flynn. Leigh is limited and far too American and the support cast do not save the day.
It’s a shame because the story is decent, Garson is well cast, the characters are strong (notwithstanding the miscasting) and the film is packed to the brim with MGM production value (perhaps over-packed… there seems to be an over-abundance of props).
Compton Bennett’s direction is not very good, though – he was brought over to Hollywood on the strength of the success of The Seventh Veil (1945) but was soon found out and quickly wound up directing “B” movies. It lacks atmosphere, humour, and a sense of family, time and place. As with Escape Me Never I found myself wishing Edmund Goulding had directed it – making melodrama is harder than it looks.
The film was given a Royal Command Performance, and was very successful in England. It did less well in the US and its high production cost meant MGM lost money on the project. Flynn did receive some decent reviews and he looked back on the movie with much fondness.
Flynn returned to Warners to make a Western, Montana (1950). He plays a sheepman, originally from the US who grew up in Australia after cattlemen shot his paw; now he’s back to the US to drive his sheep through Montana, dagnammit.
This was the first Western Flynn made for Warners that does not seem to be hugely expensive – it’s not a “B” by any means, just not a spectacle, though the budget stretched to colour photography and Alexis Smith and SZ Sakall in the cast.
It’s made with polish and vim by director Ray Enright and has the benefit of some decent action sequences and a running time of under 80 minutes. Errol disliked Westerns and doesn’t seem that interested in the proceedings, which is a shame (though he does have a moment where he goes undercover as a peddler – the movie might have been more interesting with more of this). He was showing his age by now, on screen and in story – his character gets beaten up, thrown off a bull and even shot by his love interest (Smith).
The most unusual thing about the movie is the fact that Errol plays an Aussie (though disappointingly little is made of this) and the fact that the theme of the movie seems to be about getting equal rights for sheep herders (a rare civil rights for animals movie?). Alexis Smith teamed magically with Errol in Gentleman Jim but never recaptured the lightning again, either in San Antonio or here. Having said that, at least she plays a strong character, and she and Errol sing a duet together which is a lot of fun. (NB just thinking about it, in the late ‘40s you get the feeling Warners tried to throw Errol a lot of bones here and there to placate him eg, “you can do comedy”, “you can do melodrama”, “OK it’s a Western but you can play an Aussie and have a scene where you sing”).
The villains and supporting players are undercast and after a while all the talk about “we’ve got to do it for the sheep and the rights of sheep herders everywhere” just gets silly; when Errol rides the sheep through town at the end it’s not exactly a great moment in Western history (especially when Smith then shoots him… rumour has it, this was a last minute change because Flynn was too drunk to stand… You know something? It’s a shame he didn’t just play the character as a boozer, it would’ve livened things up.). Still, as an entertainment it’s far more successful than Silver River.
Here’s a clip of Alexis Smith and Errol singing.
Much better was Flynn’s next movie, another Western, Rocky Mountain (1950). Flynn often played Southerners in Westerns – Dodge City, Santa Fe Trail – so it’s no surprise to see him leading a rebel task force towards the end of the Civil War with the aim of starting an insurrection in California. That’s a strong situation and this is an excellent programmer, with the small size of Errol’s patrol allowing for a bit of character development. It is low budget, but that works in the story’s favour, as the men are cut off on a Rocky Mountain, and black and white photography suits the gloomy mood.
Errol is in excellent form as a tired, beaten down soldier, sick of war. The cast includes a young Slim Pickens (if you can imagine such a thing) and Patrice Wymore, a dancer who had recently signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros, and was a last-minute replacement for Lauren Bacall, who refused the role. Wymore fell in love with Errol during the making of the movie and became his third wife; to be honest, she’s not one of the great Errol Flynn co-stars, though she’s pleasant enough. It makes a pleasing change that she doesn’t really romance Flynn – she’s got a sympathetic, brave fiancee, a Union officer (Scott Forbes) who complicates the action.
William Keighley directs well, helped by an excellent location. There’s perhaps a bit too much chatting and not enough action; I felt the script could have done with a juicy subplot, like a traitor in the group. But there’s a fair bit of suspense and an intense mood – it’s dealing with men far from home, cut off from help trying to roll the dice for their lost cause.
There’s also a brilliant climax where all the Southerners wait for help to arrive – they realise it’s not going to come, so decide to take on the Indians. There is something moving about the Southerners deciding to wear their colours as they go in for the final battle… and they all get killed! Because the story has similarities with Virginia City (north and south combine to fight Indians) you think the Union soldiers will come to the rescue, but they don’t. And because we’ve gotten to know the Confederates quite well it packs a punch. Even if they are fighting for the right to own slaves (Errol owns a plantation), it’s quite touching.
I don’t want to overpraise Rocky Mountain, but I think it’s a hidden gem, one of Flynn’s best Westerns.
Flynn’s contract with Warners allowed him to make films away from that studio. Compton Bennett, the director of Forsyte wanted Flynn to play Alan Quatermain in a movie he was directing at MGM based on H. Rider Haggard’s classic adventure novel King Solomon’s Mines (1950); producer Sam Zimbalist overruled Bennett – I assume he was afraid of the alcoholic, untrustworthy Flynn on a three month location shoot in Africa (you can’t really blame him); Stewart Granger got the gig instead and was launched as a Hollywood star when the movie became a huge hit (and every role Granger went on to play for MGM was ideal for Flynn). Instead Flynn went into another Imperial adventure tale based on a classic novel with someone who’d done Forsyte (producer Leon Gordon)… Kim (1951) .
Kim, from the book by Rudyard Kipling, is about the orphaned son of an Irish soldier who helps the British spy on the Russians in 1890s India, in part by dressing up as a local. MGM had intended to film it during the war as a vehicle for Mickey Rooney, but these plans were cancelled out of fear of offending Indians, then British subjects, and Russians, who were then US allies (cancel culture 1942-style). The political situation changed by 1950 – India was independent, and Russia was bad again – so the project was reactivated as a vehicle for MGM’s new child star, Dean Stockwell.
This is a decent-ish adventure film which benefits greatly from location shooting in India and suffers from an abundance of actors in brownface. My views on this movie have varied wildly over the years – sometimes I find it sluggish, but I really enjoyed my most recent viewing, in part because I adjusted to the movie’s rhythm. Victor Saville wasn’t a robust action director but he had a feel for the subject matter, and there are plenty of entertaining sequences, such as Kim being trained to spy, and the final conflict in the mountains; if you can accept it as a boys’ own adventure tale made for 1950 audiences, with all the racial sensitivity that implies, this is a lot of fun.
Dean Stockwell is alright in the lead, a bit too American but then most of the cast are. Errol Flynn plays a support role – a swaggering Muslim horse trader called “Redbeard” who spies for the British and has several adventures with Kim. (It’s reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper with Flynn playing a swashbuckling mentor to the young protagonist rather than the lead). The relationship between Stockwell and lama Paul Lukas is meant to be the heart of the story, but far better are the scenes involving Stockwell and Flynn, who plays his part with old school panache and is an ideal mentor. Another Aussie expat, Cecil Kellaway, also plays a British spy and Flynn’s old Don Juan nemesis, Robert Douglas, is excellent as a British colonel.
It’s not very well remembered today that this film was a huge hit, making over $5 million, the biggest gross of any Flynn movie during its initial release (not counting for inflation). Clearly in the right role and the right movie he remained a potent box office draw.
Unfortunately for Flynn, MGM never called him back – because that studio went on to make a series of big budget adventure films for which he would have been utterly perfect, only to see the roles go to Stewart Granger or Robert Taylor: Ivanhoe, Scaramouche, Prisoner of Zenda, Knights of the Round Table, etc.
The post war years had not been easy for Errol Flynn – he had gone into clear decline physically, personally, and professionally. Not even his greatest admirers could argue that he was a top rank star anymore – his position had been supplanted by actors such as John Wayne, Burt Lancaster or Cary Grant. However, he was a box office draw, in action films at least – he was internationally known, still had some presence and charisma. The 1950s could have been a lucrative time for him – it was a period when movies were increasingly shot on location, which Flynn loved, and stars could command increasing salaries, including a percentage of the profits. That’s how stars like Alan Ladd and James Stewart prolonged their careers.
But by the time” came out, Flynn’s career was in free fall and he would soon exile himself from Hollywood.
Appendix – Box Office Figures for Flynn Films 1946-50
Never Say Goodbye – cost $1,011,000 earnings $2,603,000
Cry Wolf – cost $1,461,000 earnings $2,690,000
Escape Me Never – cost $1,900,000 earnings $1,569,000
Silver River – cost $3,204,000 earnings $3,484,000
The Adventures of Don Juan – cost $3,408,000 earnings $4,772,000
That Forsyte Woman – cost $2,612,000 earnings $3,697,000
Montana – cost $1,589,000 earnings $3,647,000
Rocky Mountain – earnings $2,000,000 (N America)
Kim – cost $2,049,000 earnings $5,348,000
Source: Warner Bros Financial Data, The William Shaefer Ledger; MGM Financial Date, The Eddie Mannix Ledger; Variety.