4 November 2003 | cariart
Flynn Steals MGM 'Forsythe Saga'...
By the end of the 1940s, the WB had relegated one-time box office king Errol Flynn to 'B' movies, and offered him little studio support. While most of the stars under contract to the studio were still protected from unflattering publicity, Flynn's rape trial and subsequent revelations revealed a public far more tolerant of the star than the studio was, so Flynn was left 'to his own devices', and found himself the constant subject of scandalous headlines, a situation that became so intolerable that he would eventually sue 'Confidential' magazine, the most virulent of the 'scandal sheets'.
Therefore, when, negotiating a new contract in 1947, Flynn asked to be allowed to do one film a year away from the WB, the studio agreed, happily, more than pleased to let another studio pay the actor's salary and deal with his unsavory reputation. While the result of this new 'freedom' did not produce any Flynn 'classics' (KIM would be the best received of his work away from the WB), it did give him a seat at the table with Gable, Tracy, Hepburn, Garland, Taylor, and MGM's other legendary stars, when the studio celebrated their 'Golden Anniversary', in 1949.
THAT FORSYTHE WOMAN, Flynn's first film away from the WB, was a heavy-handed, ultimately unsuccessful adaptation of the first of John Galsworthy's trilogy of the rise and fall of a British aristocratic family, a popular series of works that would become the basis of the classic BBC series, 'Upstairs, Downstairs'. Offered his choice of the male 'leads' in the film, Flynn lobbied for, and got, the 'villain' of the story, the coldly ruthless Soames Forsythe, who marries MGM 'queen' Greer Garson, and proceeds to make her life a living hell. It was a major departure for Flynn, who had watched his roles at the WB deteriorate into a collection of jaded roués with a 'taste' for married women. While he acknowledged that he wasn't the easiest person to work with, he wanted to demonstrate, once and for all, that he was an actor capable of far more than leaping horses over cannons and swinging a sword. With Soames, Flynn proved he 'could deliver', even as a character you would be hard-pressed to feel sympathetic about.
As the men Garson would find comfort with, Robert Young (who had his own 'typecasting' problems, again playing a near juvenile when, in fact, he was older than Flynn!), and Walter Pidgeon (also playing a role younger than his actual age, but, as usual, winning Garson's heart), had to contend with poorly written, nearly cardboard roles (that Pidgeon 'comes off' so well is a testament to his often-overlooked acting talent...he was FAR more than just 'Garson's Leading Man').
Greer Garson, long 'typed' as the most aristocratic of MGM leading ladies, had to deliver some truly 'ripe' dialog, and her manipulation by 'class conscious' Soames seemed unrealistic and out of character, but she managed to survive the stodgy production with her reputation unblemished.
Filming was smooth and untroubled, and Garson was impressed by Flynn's professionalism (he was on his best behavior, for a change). He did, however, pull one memorable practical joke; in a very dramatic scene, as she packed to leave Soames, she opened a wooden wardrobe to discover Flynn, standing inside, naked, grinning from ear to ear! One NEVER pulled a stunt like that on a Major Star (Bette Davis would have had a tantrum), but Garson simply burst out laughing, appreciating Flynn's irreverence.
THAT FORSYTHE WOMAN would be one of Errol Flynn's favorite movies, even if it didn't turn his career around.