The Films of Errol Flynn

December 15, 2019
A Series: Part 6 – The Final Adventures

For most of the early 1950s, Errol Flynn had been “on the bum”, as he put it, living on board his yacht where his main occupations seemed to be drinking, skin diving, reading and legal disputes, with the occasional time off to make a movie. In early 1956, Universal Pictures asked him to star in his first Hollywood-shot film since Mara Maru. Flynn was about to begin the last act of his career – four years that were as action packed as any in his life.


Istanbul (1957) was a remake of Singapore (1948), a Fred MacMurray-Ava Garner movie originally written by Flynn’s old collaborator Seton I. Miller, about a man who returns to an exotic city after the war to source some hidden jewels, and reunites with the girl he once loved and thought dead.

The original wasn’t a great movie, but the remake is worse. It starts off brightly enough with some location footage in the title city, and it’s fun to see Flynn in a studio picture again, but you soon realise most of this was shot on the Universal backlot, and Flynn is too old and tired for his role – his sad eyes and puffy features sometimes added to a film’s richness if they were incorporated into his character, but there’s no allowance for it here; he just looks like a physically disintegrating alcoholic film star slotted into a Bogart-esque role that Universal probably developed for Jeff Chandler (which they had).

The script is full of echoes of Casablanca – it’s set in an exotic city, is about a shady hero who is (surprise) deep down a goodie and has a long-lost love, a black pianist friend and a friendly rivalry with the local chief of police – but they only serve to remind the viewer of what a better movie that was. At least Singapore had Ava Gardner, and was set in Singapore, so there was a decent reason for the hero to be away from the city for so long (i.e. Japanese occupation); Flynn’s long-term absence from Istanbul doesn’t make sense. The Turkish setting isn’t used apart from the “foreign country” factor and Joseph Pevney directs without feeling – it makes Mara Maru look atmospheric.

Cornell Borchers is a wet blanket as the female lead and has no chemistry with Errol. Werner Klemperer, later Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes, plays a bad guy, and this isn’t the actor’s fault but he’s distracting – I struggled to see him as anything other than Colonel Klink. The film wastes screen time on an obnoxious, squabbling American couple who have little pay off (were they meant to be the comic relief? Someone for the fly-overs to relate to?), and does nothing interesting with the character of Borchers’ husband (Why not make him a villain? A murder victim? A resistance leader? Something!). There’s some novelty in Nat King Cole making his dramatic debut as a Dooley Wilson/Sam type piano player at the hotel; he sings “When I Fall in Love”, which is probably the one significant thing about the movie.

Universal made a fair amount of schlock at this stage, it’s true, but they came up with something really strong for Flynn with Against All Flags – lightning did not strike twice with this one. Few people went to see it and reviews were poor.

Still, at least the film was made in Hollywood by a major studio so producers realised Flynn was back and available for hire. The offers came… well, not exactly rolling in, but they came.

Watch the entire film below.


Most fading movie stars of the 1950s drifted into television sooner or later. In 1955, Flynn announced he would make a TV series about the Foreign Legion, March or Die, but it never eventuated. His TV drama debut came in a 1956 episode of the anthology series Screen Director’s Playhouse called Sword of Villain.

Flynn plays the true-life French poet Francois Villon, who apparently spent a lot of time in taverns and was a bit of a rogue IRL, so the role suits Errol. The plot has Villon out to stop an assassination of the French king; there’s a sword fight, a masked ball, a bit of romance – it’s more of interest as a curiosity piece than anything else but it’s not awful by any means and Errol seems engaged. The concept was actually strong enough to support a feature film.

You can watch it below.

More significantly small screen-wise, Flynn then produced, hosted and sometimes starred in the television anthology series The Errol Flynn Theatre. Several movie stars were given such shows around this time – you had The Loretta Young Show, Jane Wyman Presents, Douglas Fairbanks Presents, The Joseph Cotten Show, The June Allyson Show etc. The Errol Flynn Theatre was shot in England and financed independently with Canadian-Swiss money, after which it was sold directly into syndication; Flynn signed a three-year contract to do it but ended up only making one season of 26 episodes. Other notable guest stars included Paulette Goddard, Christopher Lee and Glynis Johns.

Flynn hosted every episode (i.e. he filmed a small introductory spiel) and appeared in a handful, mostly historical stories: A Wife for the Czar, The Duel, The Fortunes of War, Strange Auction, Rescued and The 1,000th Night of Don Juan. Watching these you get the sense of what some of his work for Northampton Rep must have been like – playing all sorts of different roles, sometimes pulling it off, other times not so much.

Wife for a Czar is lots of fun for Flynn fans, with Errol cast as Tsar Alexis playing opposite then-wife Patrice Wymore. The piece never quite gets its tone right – it’s not funny enough to be a comedy, or serious enough for a drama. Maybe had it been able to run longer than 30 minutes these problems would have been conquered.

The Duel, based on a story by Alexander Dumas, is unusual because Flynn plays a completely unsympathetic role, something he rarely did throughout his career. He’s quite effective – it makes you wish he’d depicted more villains.

A clip from the episode below.

In Strange Auction, Flynn appears opposite not only Wymore (again) but his son Sean. Flynn Jnr, then only fifteen, was a handsome lout who couldn’t act to save his life – his performance is amateurish, with a particularly jarring American accent (the story is set in Ireland). Wymore plays his mother, who hires hobo Errol to work as a labourer; Errol and Patrice fall in love – then Sean develops a man crush on Errol and wants to go hobo-ing with him. I enjoyed this episode a lot – Errol is very well cast as the dishevelled, well-educated but ne’er-do-well hobo, and seems to be having the time of his life. The Irish atmosphere is quite good, supporting performances (apart from Sean) are strong, and it makes enjoyable light entertainment all round.

The complete episode is here:

Flynn had directed documentaries and written screenplays but is not credited as a writer or director on any episodes of The Errol Flynn Theatre, indicating his creative involvement in the project was limited. In hindsight, it’s a shame that he didn’t work behind the scenes on his own show more – he might have discovered a passion for his work that could have helped delay his path to self-destruction. Or maybe that was inevitable. The series was popular in England, making the list of top ten-rated programs in the country one week, and was sold around the world, but not widely seen in the USA.

The Big Boodle

Flynn returned to feature films with The Big Boodle (1957), produced for a budget of only $600,000, although Flynn was compensated by a healthy slice of the profits and the fact that it was shot on location in Cuba, a country he had great affection for. It was directed by Richard Wilson, who had briefly worked with Flynn on The Lady from Shanghai (1948).

In Boodle, Flynn plays a casino croupier who becomes involved in a money smuggling racket. You wouldn’t believe the handsome, dashing Errol Flynn of the ‘30s and ‘40s had been reduced to being a croupier at a Havana casino – but you would believe the seedy Errol of the late ‘50s; his age and pain on his face tell the story of it all… a man who’s done a lot of living, with plenty of regret. He seems a lot more suitably cast here than in Istanbul.

I was pleasantly surprised by this film at first – it has a pretty bad reputation but starts off as an unpretentious, fast-paced programmer which benefits from a strong story. Within the first 15 minutes, Errol has received some dodgy money at the casino, been robbed, interrogated by the police, and fired from his job – this is good screenwriting.

Unfortunately, things slow down once Errol starts romancing a woman and it all gets a bit predictable. Story strands introduced during the first part of the film, which have great potential – the corrupt atmosphere of Havana, the sinister cops, and the character of dodgy Errol, with his mysterious past – are not really developed. And he has little chemistry with his female co-stars.

But there are still pleasures, notably some location filming in Havana just before Batista’s fall, the Cuban setting, Pedro Armendariz’s performance as a local police officer (a character who’d be presumably killed within a few years when Castro came to power), a decent shootout at El Morro castle at the end. Part of me wished this was shot in colour, mainly to see the Cuban locations, but I think overall, it’s more effective in black and white.

A trailer below.

Without Incident

Flynn returned to television to appear in an episode of the renowned anthology series Playhouse 90. This show was mostly filmed live, but they occasionally did pre-recorded ones, such as Flynn’s instalment, called Without Incident – probably a good thing considering Flynn’s track record of holding up productions.

Playhouse 90 episodes went for 90 minutes making this basically a TV movie. Flynn stars as the commander of a unit of cavalry who escort some sisters thought hostile territory. The cast is strong, including Ann Sheridan (Flynn’s old drinking buddy from Silver City, Edge of Darkness and Dodge City), Julie London and John Ireland; it was directed by Charles Marquis Warren, an old hand at Westerns.

Errol doesn’t look too crash hot here – he’s weather beaten and a bit pudgy (something that tended to be disguised in his later movies because he usually wore suits all the time). It’s a different sort of character for him – a hated martinet who is willing to sacrifice the life of his men if it means keeping the Apaches at bay (the theme of the movie is sort of “we can’t back down to terrorists”.) It’s not one of his best performances, but the story is solid, and it was shot on location rather than in a studio, so the production value is decent. Flynn and Warren announced they would follow this with a TV series Cavalry Patrol, but it never eventuated – I’m not sure any network would trust Flynn’s reliability under a TV series workload.

Flynn’s career was drifting off into permanent “B” land with all that entailed at the time – probably a few sci fi films, more television, summer stock – when he roared back into public consciousness. It wasn’t scandal (for a change), it was being offered a key role in one of the most prestigious studio movies made that year. Not an action film either – this was capital P Prestige.

The Sun Also Rises

Daryl F. Zanuck had recently resigned from his job as head of production at 20th Century Fox to become an independent producer (albeit one with a very cushy deal with Fox). He specialised in big screen adaptations of best-selling novels, and was going to do a version of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, The Sun Also Rises (1957).

The book wasn’t a natural for cinematic adaptation – Hemingway’s dialogue never translates as well to the screen as you think it will when you read it, and the novel did not have a strong narrative, being about various aimless expat Americans milling around Paris after World War One. It did, however, have memorable characters and a marvelous sense of time and place; Francophile Zanuck presumably also loved the Paris setting.

The lead roles went to Tyrone Power (Jake Barnes, a writer rendered impotent by a war wound) and Ava Gardner (Lady Brett, who he desires but cannot have). The plot is basically, all of Barnes’ male friends want to have sex with Lady Brett and fight over her. There was a decent support role – the boozy Mike Campbell, one of the gang, who is engaged to Brett and loses all his money. Zanuck, who had a soft spot for mavericks, decided to give this to Errol Flynn. It was easily the actor’s most classy production since… well, probably That Forsyte Woman.

I’d like to report The Sun Also Rises marked a complete comeback for Flynn – the press certainly did at the time, the narrative was too irresistible – but it didn’t turn out quite that way. For the most part, the handling of the movie is wrong, wrong, wrong; indeed, some of it is downright hideous – the awful exposition of Power’s first scene with a soldier, Power and Mel Ferrer’s first scene, all the moments where the characters wear berets and red cravats (I don’t care if it’s historically accurate – like the lederhosen in Escape Me Never it just looks ridiculous). The treatment is too reverential when it needs to be a film about real, breathing people.

Too much of the casting is weak – Mel Ferrer is a poor actor, Tyrone Power does his best but can’t bring to life what is a tricky role, Eddie Albert is whatever, and Robert Evans is spectacularly bad as a bullfighter (he has this laughable goofy look on his face – I can’t believe they didn’t cast a European in a time when European heartthrobs were emerging on the Continent). No one looks like a writer except maybe Albert, and he just comes across as if he’s a cheerful newspaper reporter. At least Ava Gardner is perfect as Brett – she’s got the earthy, love hungry quality of the part down pat, and she’s spectacularly good, the best thing about the movie. Juliet Greco is effective too, in a small role as a prostitute.

As for Errol Flynn… well, his presence is striking and he gives a good performance, all elegant wastrel and drunken gentleman. I’m not sure that he gives the right performance though – it doesn’t make sense that Gardner would want to marry him, he looks so wrecked and awful, no sexual threat (especially once we know he’s broke), and he has to do too many scenes in berets. It’s fascinating work, he has a few good moments – drunken self-pitying scenes – but for me he threw the film off balance.

Occasionally, this movie does hit the mark – when the friends are walking around, talking to each other, having drinks, deciding which party or club to go to, running into old acquaintances, squabbling, falling in love with the one girl, etc. The film created that vibe of schoolies, or ending exams, or just a big Friday night – guys cruising on the town, looking for something and never quite finding it – but director Henry King can’t sustain it; the movie sinks under its self-importance and CinemaScope. It’s a shame this novel was never filmed by a director like, say Howard Hawks (who was going to do it at one stage) – someone really skilled with male ensembles and actors and atmosphere. The location work in Paris and Mexico is a plus, but even the latter is flawed, as those scenes should have been shot in Spain.

The movie was a success at the box office (Power, Gardner and Zanuck were all considerable draws, and Flynn’s comeback had novelty), but not a significant one – I’m not sure it would’ve recovered its high production costs. Flynn received some excellent reviews, among the best of his career – a lot of that was probably out of sympathy for his physical disintegration but it was better than nothing. Hemmingway hated the movie and said so publicly, but he also mentioned that he felt Flynn was the best thing about it. In Hollywood terms, Flynn was back.

Too Much Too Soon

Warner Bros had bought the film rights to Too Much Too Soon, the biography of Diana Barrymore, daughter of John and niece of Lionel and Ethel, who had a brief film career off the back of her family’s reputation – her best known movie is probably Between Us Girls (1943) (she’s absolutely terrible) – before wrecking it with a combination of alcoholism, temperament and lack of talent.  Her life had already been fictionalised on screen in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) (she inspired the Lana Turner character) but this version would name names. Well, mostly.

Although the story focused on Dorothy, the showiest part in the book (and film) was her father John Barrymore, the swashbuckling film star of the 1920s who was at one stage acclaimed as the greatest actor of his generation, before being undone by alcohol and ego. Jack Warner wrote in his memoirs that he immediately thought of Flynn to play the role, despite his clashes with the actor over the year. “Frankly, I missed his gaiety and taunting laughter and the excitement he generated on set,” said Warner. Flynn was offered the role and accepted, Dorothy Malone (coming off an Oscar for Written on the Wind) played Diana and the director was Art Napoleon.

Flynn never had Barrymore’s reputation as a great actor but he’s perfectly cast – full of charisma, charm and sadness, with a beautiful speaking voice and fondness for the bottle. He was also good friends with Barrymore towards the end of the latter’s life.

Jack Warner later wrote he “could not bare to watch” Flynn “struggle through take after take” while making the film, but the actor really tried on this one and you can tell. Everything he does is memorable – John Barrymore asking Diana to tell all about her life and getting bored straight away, performing the ‘once more into the breach’ soliloquy to a neighbouring yacht while a bit pissed and getting increasingly roused (Flynn’s not magical but he does not disgrace himself) – then abandoning his daughter, showing his daughter around a near-empty mansion, going on a massive drink session leading to his minder having to tackle him, a scene where he makes eyes at a young starlet… played by Beverly Aadland (a teenager who had become Flynn’s lover), his fear at getting the lead in the film version of The Man Who Came to Dinner , a drunken phone call to his ex-wife, his final plea for Diana to stay.

The film is full of other good scenes too – Diana getting big applause for her first appearance on stage (and her mother saying – all too accurately – that she’s a second rate actor and is only getting applause for her name), sexy Malone dancing in her swimsuit at her party, Ray Danton abusing Diana while smacking a tennis ball off a wall near her head (and eventually hitting her in the face with that ball – great scene), Diana doing a nightclub act while trashed (she starts off doing impersonations and ends up stripping).

I’ve always remembered the ending where Diana is inspired to meet up with a publisher by an old boyfriend who turns out to be bald. She may be a drunk but she’s not bald! As a baldy, I admit on one hand to be a little bit offended – but it’s also a warm, human, true and different end. “Once all I had was money. I’ve got something else now – I’m a real nice guy” – that’s a nice thing for baldy to say.

For some reason, the film received terrible reviews, and no one went to see it – this helped kill Dorothy Malone’s chance at big screen stardom. I’ve never been able to understand why – biopics about boozy female stars tended to do well in the 1950s, like Jeanne Eagles (1957) and I’ll Cry for Tomorrow (1955) but not this one. I know I’m biased towards Flynn films, but I genuinely don’t get it. It was his best film of the decade.

A clip of the film is below.

Return to the Stage

Flynn had kind of made a comeback, but it was as a character actor which isn’t that lucrative, and he continued to constantly live beyond his means. He accepted an offer to return to the stage for the first time since the early 1930s, playing Rochester in an adaptation of Jane Eyre called Master of Thornfield. This was written and produced by Huntington Hartford, heir to the A and P Supermarket fortune who inherited $90 million and succeeded in blowing almost all of it before he died, including half a million on this stage production.

Part of the reason Flynn agreed to appear in the play was Hartford promised to also produce Flynn’s stage adaptation of Richelieu, the 1839 play Edward George Bulwer-Lytton – so Flynn had aspirations as a playwright which is fascinating. The actor was also getting a large salary – up to $7,000 a week plus expenses – along with promises to appear in a film version of Thornfield, and free accommodation at Hartford’s fancy estate.

Flynn should have been ideal as Rochester, even with his rusty stage technique – he’d played a role along those lines in Cry Wolf (1947) – and possibly under different circumstances he might have worked out, but the production was a disaster. Flynn turned up late to rehearsals, clashed with Hartford, forgot his lines, and complained about the script’s quality to the press. Reviews were bad during previews and Flynn ended up walking out on the production before it reached New York. The part of Rochester was taken over by Eric Portman and made it to Broadway where it only had a short run under the title Jane Eyre. Flynn never returned to the stage.

The Roots of Heaven

One of the reasons Flynn left the project was Zanuck had offered him another role as a drunk in another CinemaScope spectacular based on a best-selling novel: The Roots of Heaven.

This is a truly odd movie. Despite its best-seller lineage (Romain Gary wrote the book), the central idea is not the most obviously commercial, and very ahead of its time: Trevor Howard plays a staunch elephant conservationist, who loves the animals to such a degree that after a period trying to get people to sign anti-poaching petitions, he takes up arms and leads a ragtag group of misfits to defend the animal. This is possibly the first big budget studio film about an eco-terrorist (unless you count Tarzan movies).

It was made by mavericks: directed by John Huston, produced by Zanuck, co-written by war hero Patrick Leigh Fremor, and with a cast that included such exotic types as Flynn, Juliet Greco and Orson Welles. You can almost smell the cigars, whiskey and women that must have been consumed during its making.

Flynn was top billed but actually played a support role, as an alcoholic ex-serviceman who joins Howard’s crusade. Flynn and Huston had known each other a long time – 12 years earlier they engaged in a famous impromptu fist fight at a David O Selznick party, prompted by a crack Flynn made about Olivia de Havilland who had once dated Huston; they slugged it out for over an hour, before retiring exhausted; there were no hard feelings, apparently – both men swapped calls the following day.

The movie was mostly shot on location in French Equatorial Africa under grueling conditions – “the most difficult location in the entire history of motion pictures” according to Zanuck. The cast and crew battled extreme heat, isolated conditions, sunstroke, malaria, dysentery and other ailments; some people went mad in the heat.

After a decade of unprofessional behaviour Flynn might have been expected to collapse in a heap in Africa, but he absolutely rose to the occasion. Huston later wrote that the actor’s behaviour was “exemplary. He couldn’t have been better”. Flynn even accompanied Huston on a safari during the shoot and had a marvelous time.

One wonders why? An actor who behaved so badly on The Master of Thornfield and other movies suddenly became a role model on location in tropical Africa?

But maybe it isn’t so hard to figure out. Flynn was playing a juicy part in a big Hollywood movie. He had a producer and director who were the best in the game. He was living in an environment where drinking copious amounts of alcohol was socially acceptable. A doctor provided him with drugs and women through the shoot. His diet of vodka protected him from bugs. But most of all, he was working on location in a far-flung corner of the world (far flung unless you’re African, of course). Inhospitable climate. Isolated terrain. Good comrades, alcohol, women and storytelling around the campfire at night. In a word, adventure. That was Flynn’s idea of heaven.

The Roots of Heaven is a flawed movie. It looks fantastic – going on location was worth it, to the viewer, at least – but Trevor Howard isn’t quite right in the lead role. Could anyone make it work? Maybe the problem is that he’s a bit too glum, brusque and no-nonsense British rather than messianic. Juliet Greco is better as the shady waitress who falls under his spell; the film was part of a sub-genre known as “Zanuck’s girlfriend vehicles” – a series of films made by the legendary producer where his woman of the moment was given a big fat part  (others include The Racers, The Egyptian, Crack in the Mirror, The Big Gamble, The Longest Day, Hello Goodbye). But Greco is no passenger here, she totally pulls her weight.

Even better than Greco is Flynn, who plays a guilt riddled soldier who joins the expedition, the third in his “drunk trilogy” of performances – I can’t imagine it was a hard role for him to play, but he’s very effective regardless. His battered, sad face tells a lifetime of regret and lost opportunity – you wish his part was bigger (he’s not on screen for very long and dies 30 minutes before the end). Maybe if Errol had played the lead this would have been a better (or more popular) film.

The movie is a bit of a mess, though – crucial scenes that would be powerful if dramatised (Howard in a POW camp, elephants being killed) are conveyed via people talking about them instead of seeing them, the narrative doesn’t build, there’s this awful misogynistic scene where a stuck up woman is spanked, it goes on too long (by the time Eddie Albert turns up I was expecting it to end but there’s still another half an hour to go). And there’s hardly any elephants in it!

Huston later said The Roots of Heaven was one of the few movies he wished he could remake because he felt he never captured the magic of the book. He added that the whole film, regardless of the difficulty, wasn’t as troublesome as directing Montgomery Clift in Freud (1962).

The sheer oddity of the film’s existence – a well-financed studio picture stuffed full of A-list talent about elephant conservation – and fine work by Flynn and Greco give it points. It was a box office disappointment and Flynn got the best of the reviews.

Cuban Adventures

Throughout the last eighteen months of his life, Flynn continued to live as if he was twenty one – he drank heavily, spent money he could not afford, took drugs, and dated a teenager, Beverley Aadland. He had disintegrated so much physically that old friends took a while to recognise him, and doctors thought he should be dead. He signed a contract to write his memoirs which he did in collaboration with Earl Conrad.

He had one last glorious adventure left – going to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro) then scurrying about the hills with his band of rebels, but about to successfully take over the country). The official reason was a newspaper assignment, but the real lure would have been adventure.

Even at the time, it was remarkable – most decrepit alcoholics prefer to stay at home or in familiar watering holes but Flynn left to go on a potentially deadly excursion into a war zone. He met Castro and Che Guevara, and became an enthusiastic about the revolution – so much so he wound up helping make not one, but two, movies promoting Castro. One of the films was a documentary, the other a drama.

Just to recap that in his last year of life, Flynn made two films about how great Fidel Castro was.

Flynn had rarely expressed much political commitment throughout his life, not even during the Depression, or World War Two, or the Cold War. And here, he was being a propagandist for Fidel Castro, of all people. (In fairness, Castro’s reputation at the time was as a freedom fighter and his PR was pretty good until he took power.)

Did Flynn get political towards the end? Dd he do it just for kicks? Was he blackmailed? Trying to show off to Aadland? My theory is that he did it for the sheer thrill of it – the same reason he took off for London in 1933, Spain during the civil war in 1937, or those Zaca expeditions after the war.

The dramatic feature was Cuban Rebel Girls (1959) directed by Barry Mahon. Errol, looking very weary, plays himself, who goes to Cuba and meets with the rebels in some footage that is told with his own weazy-sounding voice over. The film then focuses on three Cuban rebel girls: Maria, an agent for the rebels who lives in Havana chased by agents; Jackie, a Cuban exile who smuggles some guns for the rebels; and Beverly Aadland (Errol’s real life gaol bait), whose boyfriend is fighting with the rebels. They all troop off into the hills; Errol arrives to do his story, gets injured in the leg (something which apparently really happened to Flynn in Cuba), then leaves.

Although Flynn wrote the story, he isn’t in it much (just like with The Adventures of Captain Fabian). There is a pointless scene where the three girls go for a nude swim (Mahon became notorious for making “nudie cuties”).

Technically the film is poor – bad acting, lousy sound, nil production values. It compels interest mostly by virtue of showing Aadland in a lead role, Flynn on death’s door, and the weirdness of such a pro-Castro film (even though he wasn’t a confirmed commie then) coming from a Hollywood movie star.

A complete copy of Cuban Rebel Girls is here:

Flynn also narrated a short documentary titled Cuban Story: The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution (1959), directed by Victor Pahlen. Well, “narrate” might be putting it on a bit thick – Errol appears at the beginning introducing the movie, looking wheezy and like someone who’s done a lot of living, and re-appears midway. But the actual narration is done by someone else who is trying to sound like Errol.

The documentary covers the fall of Batista and Castro’s early days and is surprisingly engrossing – there’s vision of Che and Fidel, and footage of Batista’s goons shooting people in the street; of the celebrations on Castro’s arrival; and of the trials that followed his coming to power – including a person sentenced to death for pre-revolution atrocities who requests how to die… and we see him die (via firing squad after a cigarette). It’s pretty full on. There’s also great vision of Errol turning up to George Raft’s casino with Beverly Aadland and a middle-aged woman (presumably her mother). Technically the quality is poor.

Castro is just one chapter in Flynn’s eventful FBI file, a complete copy of which is available here – Flynn did not live long enough to see the Cuban become America’s public enemy number one.

The Final Months

Flynn’s final dramatic performance was for TV, The Golden Shanty. Touchingly, this has an Australian connection – it’s based on a short story by Australian writer Edward Dyson which was set in Australia. The adaptation relocates it to the American West.

Flynn is happily cast as a travelling salesman in the old west – the shonky nature of the character suits Errol’s dodgy persona. The plot has Errol selling a worthless gold mine to a poor sucker (Peter Hansen) – then discovers the sucker has built a saloon out of bricks which contain gold. This means he needs to smooth talk the man’s wife (Patricia Barry) in order to buy the saloon. Errol always made a good rogue and he’s fun here. Barry isn’t bad – perhaps a bit too pretty to be suckered in by Flynn’s antics (imagine, say Marjorie Main, in the role). It was directed by Arthur Hiller, who went on to have a major Hollywood career, and who remembered it as a difficult shoot because of Flynn’s disintegration. Still, they managed to finish it.

A complete copy of the episode is below.

Flynn finished one last book, his autobiography My Wicked Wicked Ways, although he had disintegrated so much he needed the assistance of a ghost writer. The book was a final artistic triumph for Flynn – fascinating, complex, compulsively readable; if variable with the truth, it was true to his spirit. It became a best-seller and my theory is, had Flynn lived at least another year or two, he would have made most of his money by writing/dictating sequels – he certainly had enough material for several memoirs. But the book was still awaiting publication when Flynn died of a heart attack in Vancouver on October 14, 1959.

He was survived by his parents, three ex-wives (he was never formally divorced from Wymore), Aadland and four children. Two of his children predeceased their mothers. Son Sean did some (terrible) acting in a series of European movies, one of which was called Son of Captain Blood. He became a photojournalist and adventurer, very much in the tradition of his father; Errol Flynn had survived visits to war zones in Spain and Cuba, but Sean disappeared in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, presumed killed by the Khmer Rogue.

Errol Flynn took some blows after his death – Beverly Aadland claimed he raped her, Charles Higham wrote a notorious biography that came out in 1980 accusing him of rape, assault and spying for the Nazis – yet he remains a recognisable name. He still seems to be a film star from the Golden Years of Hollywood that the average person in the street might have heard of.

He’s been immortalised on screen by Chris Stollery, Guy Pearce, Jude Law, Duncan Regehr, Thomas Cocquerel and Kevin Kline; no one’s ever quite nailed it, though, IMHO, Peter O’Toole came closest as a fictionalised version in My Favourite Year (1982).

But then there was only one Errol Flynn. God gave him beauty and talent, luck granted him a lucrative career and international fame. He wasted much of his life (and all his fortune) through an inability to control his appetites. But he was more serious about his craft than many gave him credit for. And as someone who packed their life full of adventure, he has few equals.


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Read Part 4

Read Part 5


Box Office Figures of Flynn Films 1956-59

The Big Boodle – cost $600,000

The Sun Also Rises – cost $3,500,000 earnings $3,815,000

The Roots of Heaven – cost $3,300,000 earnings $3,000,000

Source: Variety

No figures available for Istanbul, Too Much Too Soon, Cuban Rebel Girls




  1. Sabine Lechtenfeld

    Thanks for this captivating series! Since I was born after Errol Flynn’s death, I never shared this planet with him. But I fell in love with him instantly, when on a rainy Sunday afternoon I watched “Robin Hood” with my parents on tv. I was still a little girl back then, but I never fell out of love! In his best years Flynn was so full of life that the screen seemed to burst into spontaneous sparkles, and he projected a lightness of being which seems to defy gravity and has never been replicated by another actor. From then on the character of Robin Hood has been out of reach for all other actors – I am looking at you, Kevin Costner 😉
    But IMO Flynn was also a terrific although slightly underrated actor. His facial expressions are vivid and varied, and I think that he always delivered much more than he was asked for by his directors. This is already apparent in his first big movie “Captain Blood”. Even when Dr. Peter Blood just says “goodbye” to his houskeeper at the beginning of the movie, you cannot take your eyes off his beautiful and expressive face. Without Errol Flynn the movie would have been a run-of-the-mill pirate flick with great production values, but because of Flynn – and also his co-stars – the movie is a timeless and still immensely enjoyable masterpiece. Btw, Bette Davis who complained initially that Flynn was not really a great actor, changed her opinion later in life, and told Olivia di Haviland during a screening of “Elizabeth and Essex” in the 1970s that she had been wrong, and that Flynn had been a magnificent actor who should have been given many more challenging roles.
    As to the so-called disintigration of Flynn’s good looks, I beg to differ. Considering his age and his unhealthy lifestyle, he still looks attractive on-screen in a rough way – if we don’t compare him with his former self! But I really don’t think that he aged badly, and his screen presence is still there, although the gravity-defying lighness is gone. But if Flynn had sobered up a bit and had lived longer, he could have had a very satisfying late career as a character actor. Hollywood was a far better place back then for aging men than for past-their-prime actresses. I think that Errol Flynn could have pulled off the character of the aging sherif in “High Noon” just as well as the equally sick Gary Cooper, although I guess Flynn would have been a bit less grumpy and less morose.
    The 21st century brought us the #me too movement and a long overdue attitude change concerning the sexual harassment and exploitation of women – and some men, too – in Hollywood and other professional and private settings. However, I think it is not helpful to project our current moral values into a completely different era. I do believe that Errol Flynn’s often outrageous private exploits should not be brushed under the carpet – they are far too captivating, anyway, and Flynn’s life was even the subject of two movies and a few documentaries – but our current moral yardstick has limits.

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