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The Sea Hawk

With Grateful Affection
As great as "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is, for me "The Sea Hawk" is the all-time Errol Flynn film, the first one I'd show to someone who had never seen an Errol Flynn film and wondered what the fuss was about.

He's at the height of his powers here, handsome, athletic, assured, able to smoothly change tones from scene to scene and even within a scene as he woes his leading lady, the beautiful Brenda Marshall, calling her "Our Lady of the Roses" or as he accepts the official recriminations of Queen Elizabeth while expressing his friendship and loyalty to her.

The film contains one brilliantly done scene after another. Usually, the big battle comes at the beginning of the film as Flynn, (Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, based on Sir Frances Drake), captures a Spanish galleon full of oars manned by enslaved Englishmen and carrying Claude Rains' Spanish Ambassador and his beautiful daughter, (Marshall). Then we get Thorpe's charmingly shy wooing of Marshall and his wry exchanges for Flora Robson's Elizabeth. There's a haunting scene where Marshall has found out that Thorpe's mission to Panama will be a trap but arrives too late to stop him from sailing, able only to watch wishfully as he and his ship disappear into the fog. Then come the jungle battles and the eerie sight of Thorpe's apparently abandoned ship, the Albatross where the last remnants of his crew are captured. We see Thorpe and his men become galley slaves themselves but rebel and take over the ship to sail back to England, where Thorpe has a dramatic swordfight with the villain, Lord Wolfingham, (Henry Daniel), obviously intended to match or exceed the famous one between Flynn and Rathbone in 'Robin Hood'. Robson ends it by making a Churchillian speech prior to the battle with the Spanish Armada, which is not depicted here, (unlike the somewhat similar 1937 British Film, Fire Over England with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh). It's probably best it wasn't as the emotional peak for this film had already been reached.

The action of this film takes place about a decade before the previous years "Elizabeth and Essex". Here Flynn is not trying to take over the Kingdom and his affection for Elizabeth makes more sense. Robson's Elizabeth doesn't probe into her neurotic psyche the way Bette Davis does but she had a greater presence and a charming sense of humor, even if she retains the quick temper. Marshall is a statuesque heroine but the emotional timbre of her performance is convincing. The cast is full of the 'usual suspect' of an Errol Flynn film. Alan Hale continues to be joined at Flynn's hip. Rains plays another schemer, although he loves his daughter, as does Daniel, who had a similar role in 'Elizabeth and Essex'. Unlike Rathbone, he was no swordsman and their duel in the finale is done by stuntmen but still very effective. Donald Crisp is the stalwart courtier, warning Elizabeth of the Spanish threat. Una O'Connor repeats her role as the heroine's maid from 'Robin Hood'. Montagu Love, King Henry VIII in "The Prince and the Pauper" and the Bishop of the Black Canons in 'Robin Hood', is King Philip of Spain here, his shadow falling over the map of the known world as he declares that one day it will simply be a map of Spain. William Lundigan makes another appearance but can't survive the jungle. You can also recognize Edgar Buchanan in an early role, shortly after he turned his dentistry practice over to his wife. Swashbuckling was more fun.

Michael Curtiz keeps his usual brisk pace and the film is blessed by another great musical score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold live it the lush romantic ambiance old Hollywood was so good at. The brief 'Dona Maria's Song' is amazingly beautiful. Just one more perfect thing for a perfect film.

The background of all this was the war that had begun the previous year. England was being bombarded by the Luftwaffe while the descendants of the sea hawks, the RAF struggled against great odds to prevent an invasion. Hitler clearly had the same ambitions as Philip. America was still officially neutral, as England was at the beginning of this film. The messages were even clearer to the audiences of the time than they are now: seek the peace but be prepared for war - and let the heroes come forth!

Virginia City

Short of a classic but very under-rated
1940 may have been the peak year of Errol Flynn's career. He made three memorable films that year: 'Virginia City', 'The Sea Hawk and 'Santa Fe Trail'. This was the first of them.

At the end of 1939's 'Dodge City', Flynn's character in that one, Wade Hatton, who just cleaned up that Kansas city, has agreed to go out to Virginia City, (in Nevada), and audiences must have thought the new film was a sequel to that one. It is not. The action in this one predates that one and Flynn here plays Kerry Bradford, an Irishman fighting for the Union who escapes from Libby Prison and is assigned to go to the western city not to 'clean it up' but to secure the gold being produced there for the Union. There he finds, in a classic movie irony, the former commandant of Libby, Randolph Scott, who has been assigned to remove much of that gold to the Confederacy to finance the war effort. Hollywood had to straddle the subject of the Civil War in those days, (same with the Revolution), because the losers of the war were now a major part of the market for their films. As a result, Flynn and Scott are depicted as rivals, rather than good or bad guys.

This necessitates the introduction of a genuinely bad guy, someone with no cause and no principles Enter Humphrey Bogart, who had been playing bad guy, (or worse guy) in Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney movies. Here he's a Mexican bandit with a small army of henchmen who rob and steal throughout the west. He's wearing one of those pencil moustaches that were popular at the time and using a sort of Mexican accent that comes and goes. But he does a good job of providing a real bad guy, allowing both Flynn and Scott to appear admirable by contrast.

A major weakness in the film is the leading lady. It was supposed to be Olivia de Havilland. Who had grown tired of being Flynn's love interest, so much so that in Dodge City, she wanted to switch roles with Ann Sheridan, who played sexy dance hall performer and have Ann play the demure, wistful heroine. Had she taken the role in Virginia City, she would have been able to play both roles in one. 'Julia Hayne' is a strange hybrid of a southern belle and girlfriend of Scott's who is not above spying for her beloved confederacy. Somehow that has transformed her into saloon entertainer in Nevada. She falls for Flynn on a stagecoach trip west but remains loyal to the Confederacy and helps Scott, whom she continues to love as well. She has a final scene in which she pleads with President Lincoln to spare Flynn, who has hidden the gold to save it from Bogart but prevent it from getting to the Confederacy but also insure that it won't be used against them, (talk about fence-straddling!), after which she is so impressed with Lincoln that she promises to tell the people of the south what a great man he is. That must have been an interesting trip.

With de Havilland refusing to play the role, it probably should have gone to Sheridan but instead Miriam Hopkins, a good character actress approaching 40, (when that was middle aged) was chosen. She lacks the stunning looks and glamour de Havilland would have brought to the project and can't sing a note. Her scenes with Flynn fall flat. Flynn's affection for her seems forced although his reaction to her betrayal of him seems realistic. They lack any screen chemistry.

Despite these problems, the film is very entertaining, better, in my view than Dodge City which is often said to over-shadow it. As in that film, Alan Hale and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams form a comedy team of protectors for Flynn. Dickie Jones joins Scotty Beckett, ('The Charge of the Light Brigade'), and Bobs Watson, ('Dodge City'), as young boys whose on-screen deaths show how cruel the bad guys are. John Litel adds some gravitas in another small role. What dominates the film are the big, exciting action scenes, the amazing stunt work, impressive use of actual locations and painted backdrops and the larger-than-life musical score from Max Steiner, which gives the film an epic feel that 'Dodge City tried for but came up a bit short on. One wonders why this one wasn't made in technicolor.

A couple of sad notes: As noted in the trivia sections, this film was re-released in 1956 and advertised as a Randolph Scott - Humphrey Bogart film. Hopkins had been forgotten and Flynn's life and career had deteriorated to the point that he was no longer a drawing card. But in 1940 he was at the height of his powers and easily dominates this film. He was one of two great heroes of my youth, (I was born in 1953). An afternoon movie show presented many of Flynn's best films and "The Adventures of Superman" was being broadcast with my other hero, George Reeves, who appears briefly here as an army telegrapher. Both died in 1959 and my parents didn't have the heart to me that they were gone.

The Jackie Gleason Show: Game Called on Account of Marriage
Episode 2, Season 3

The actual day!
A fun episode about Ralph trying to get his sister-in-law to elope so that he can go to Game 5 of the 1954 World Series between the Giants and the Indians the next day instead of having to attend her wedding. Ralph and Alice have one of their best arguments. Ralph meets Norton at a manhole for lunch and we hear all kinds of details about life in the sewer. (They have a 'floating crap game', perhaps the best line in the series.) They visit the fiance at a movie theater where he is the projectionists and Norton takes too much interest in the film- the actual reel of film. Finally, Ralph and Ed have to assist the elopement with the help of a flimsy ladder which caused Gleason to improvise much of the scene, (no doubt remembering that he'd broken his leg on the show the previous spring).

But the kicker comes when Frank Marth, playing still another policeman, informs Ralph that there won't be a game on Sunday October 5th because the Giants wrapped up the sweep of the series that day - October 4th. And that actually happened that day! They must have added that line at the end of the already written show when the Giants won that day's game a few hours before.

One little problem - Game Five would have been played in Cleveland!

Studio One

A portal into TV's past
I've always wanted to see the original, 1954 TV production of "12 Angry Men". The 1957 starring Henry Fonda is one of my all-time favorites and I love comparing movie versions of famous dramas to the original TV versions. When the Archive of American Television issued their Studio One Anthology which included the original version of "12 Angry Men", I had to have it. I wound up watching all 17 presentations, which cover the glory era of Studio One, which, with Playhouse 90, is one of the two most famous of the live TV anthology shows that, with the live variety shows, constituted the "Golden Age of TV", which reigned before the networks deserted New York for the west coast and filmed series with rigid formats.

Watching 17 Studio Ones in 17 nights was an interesting experience, different of course then watching it once a week and watching these particular episodes over 8 years. The effect was slightly depressing while at the same time being enlightening. Part of the reason was that I was watching kinescopes, which, even when in relatively good condition, look a bit like dream sequences, fuzzy and dark. And 16 of the 17 episodes are dramas, one an opera, (a genre which I always find kind of dire). Afterwards I had an enormous desire to watch an episode of Hawaii Five-0, which, while it's also decades old, is shot on film out of doors and in the sun.

We tend to think of the anthology shows of this era in terms of "Marty", "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and "12 Angry Men". Every week a classic. But it wasn't like that. The live dramas of the Golden Age had the advantage of being open-ended: you could write about what you wanted to, so long as you kept it clean and danced around the political mores of the times. But they also were hastily done, cheap, and were shot entirely in a studio, (Studio One's was in Grand Central Station, no less), and lacked the "floor" episodic TV had, even if they also lacked its ceiling. The worst Hawaii Five-0 is probably better than the worst Studio One, even if the best Studio One goes beyond anything Hawaii Five-0 could do. This is a sample of some of the show's best work but many of the 17 plays are nothing exceptional.

The very first Studio One, (on TV, anyway: it had been on radio for a year), was "The Storm", on 11/7/48. It was redone 10/17/49 and that's the version we see here. It's just a "woman in distress" story, along the lines of "Suspicion", as an insecure young woman marries a "nice guy" and finds out he isn't. Other than its historical value, it isn't all that interesting. The oldest kinescope here is "The Medium", (12/12/48- the third ever Studio One), a Menotti opera chiefly interesting, (to me, anyway), because the producer of the stage production upon which it's based was Ephraim Zimbalist Jr., a decade before he played Stu Bailey on "77 Sunset Strip"

The best thing about these old shows is the faces- the many recognizable actors, most of them early in their careers, who appear. Jack Lemmon, in perhaps his first appearance before the cameras, (6/22/49), plays the sort of nice young man, (an aspiring songwriter), that he would become famous playing in the next decade in "June Moon". Eva Marie Saint, also an early appearance, plays the girl he falls for. Edward Andrews, a comical or occasionally menacing businessman in 60's films and TV shows, plays a more established songwriter. David Opatoshu, whose stock in trade was intellectual leaders, (see Star Trek's "A Taste of Armageddon"), here plays a window washer who anticipates Ed Norton of The Honeymooners. But the play itself is nothing special.

Charlton Heston first made a name for himself on this show and appears as Heathcliffe is a reasonable adaptation of "Wuthering Heights". The problem with such adaptations is that they had to be shoehorned into an hour and cut for Betty Furness's commercials. We get the beginning of Julius Caesar, in which Alfred Ryder does Mark Anthony's speech without Marlon Brando's passion but with a wry intelligence that was probably closer to what Shakespeare intended. It's fun to see perennial TV bad guys like Ryder and Bruce Gordon, who plays a Centurion, in non-bad guy classic roles. Most of the cast of this one turned up on "Perry Mason" over the years, multiple times.

I liked Cyril Richard as Pontius Pilate in and Easter special from 1952. A 1953 version of 1984 with Eddie Albert and Lorne Greene is powerful, (but the most depressing of all). Greene's deep voice works as well for the head bad guy as it did for the head good guy on Bonanza- it could be as frightening as it was reassuring.

The one comedy is "Confessions of a Nervous Man" from 1953 with Art Carney playing George Axelrod in a story of what it was like to write a hit play, "The Seven year Itch", (he even drops the names of Bill Wilder and Marilyn Monroe, who were preparing the 1955 film version). Audiences of the day knew that Art Carney was capable of a lot more than playing Ed Norton but that's all anybody sees today.

The greatest legacy of the live anthologies was the opportunity they gave for talented young dramatists. Gore Vidal wrote "Dark Possession" (2/15/54), which examined split personality three years before "The Three Faces of Eve" and "Summer Pavilion" (5/2/55), an homage to Tennessee Williams. Rod Serling provided "The Strike", a powerful drama with a great performance by James Daly who has to order an air strike that will kill some of his own men. (It anticipates the Twilight Zone episode "The Purple Testament".) He also wrote the last one in the collection, "The Arena", (4/8/56), a drama of Congress that turns "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" around: the veteran Senator turns out to be the good guy while the new guy wants to destroy him. It also anticipates Vidal's "The Best Man" in that the younger Senator, (Wendell Corey), is tempted to use McCarthy-like tactics against this rival but finally declines to do so.

But the writer who got the biggest reputation from Studio One is Reginald Rose, who became famous for "12 Angry Men" and for "The Defenders", the pilot of which was done on Studio One in 1957 (not included in this collection but I already had it: it's the one "Boston Legal" used because it featured William Shatner 50 years ago: the original is much better). He also wrote "The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners" (1/11/54) and "An Almanac of Liberty" (11/8/54), both of which feature impromptu trials- the first by children and the second by some mysterious force that stops time. Both are artificial and preachy. Much better is "The Death and Life of Harry Benson" (5/31/54) with Skip Homeier as a soldier pretending to be a deceased buddy so he can have a family and "Dino" (1/2/56), which made Sal Mineo a star in a semi-autobiographical role that was also done as a movie the next year.

Ms. Furness's commercials are interesting if a bit jarring. Somehow the fact that she's doing them at the same time the dramas are being presented, with just a flat between them is a little disturbing, especially when we've just left a desolate Korean outpost like the one in "The Strike". A filmed commercial seems more distant and easier to tune out. The technology of those appliances Betty is hawking is not so different now than it was then and those refrigerators, ranges, washers and dryers look a lot more solidly built that the junk I've got in my kitchen now. Where can I get them?

Ultimate, the feeling one gets is of peering back into the mists of time. "The Medium" was broadcast 60 years ago. If the players in it could watch something that was 60 years old then, they'd be watching something from 1888. Jack Lemmon was not yet 24 when he acted in "June Moon" and died seven years ago at the age of 76. Elizabeth Montgomery appears in "Summer Pavilion" at age 22, young, talented and beautiful. She died 13 years ago at the age of 62. Eddie Albert, who lived to be age 99, co-stars with Norma Crane, who died at age 44. Virtually all the performers in these old kinescopes left us, many of them long ago.

But, thanks to the Archive of American Television, they are still with us.

(First posted to the IMDB message board in 2008)

The Jackie Gleason Show: Ralph's Sweet Tooth
Episode 1, Season 3

Don't touch that dial!
No, it's not your vertical hold, (remember that?). That's Jackie Gleason's face, (Ralph Kramden), as he has to chow down on a sugar-laden candy bar on national TV with a terrible toothache. it's probably the greatest 'take' of all time. The method Ralph and Ed use to deal with Ralph's toothache the night before is also one of the great Honeymooner's moments.

When the "Lost Episodes" came out in the 1980's, a friend of mine who was big fan of the "Classic 39" expressed disappointment in them. he felt they were of inferior visual quality, being "kinoscopes", a record of a live broadcast created by literally bolting a film camera face-t0-face with a TV monitor and recording the show 'through the glass', compared to the Classic 39, which were simultaneously broadcast and filmed by a special process known as an 'electronicam'. I disagreed for two reasons: while the electronicam image and sound were of consistent quality, they had the 'distant' feeling of any old film. You can watch a black and white movie from 1955 and it might be a good movie but it looks like it was filmed in 1955 and you are stuck in 2021. The Lost Episodes may have some imperfections but if you look past them you can see the live performance and think that you are in 1954, when this episode was presented.

The second reason was that I felt the real peak of The Honeymooners in terms of story telling and humor was the year before the Classic 39, the 1954-55 season. The series has matured past the 10 minute sketches that were about arguments and become a full-blown show of it's own within the Jackie Gleason Show. it had fully developed characters and relationships, multi-faceted stories that lasted not 25 minutes as with the Classic 39 but 45 minutes and writers were at their peak. the humor was louder more raucous than the Classic 39 but once you get used to that you laugh harder. Some of these stories were re-done with the 60's Jackie Gleason Show but Jackie and Art Carney were older, more baggy-eyed and had lesser performers playing their wives so it wasn't as entertaining. these are the originals and the best versions of these stories.

So, If you've just watched "Ralph's Sweet Tooth", congratulations. You are about to go on a wild ride of laughs through the greatest season television's funniest show ever had!

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

When I think of what you would do to my country if you were King
A year after playing an otherwise sensible woman in love with Errol Flynn in "The Sisters", Better Davis got her greatest role, playing Queen Elizabeth I, madly in love with but scared of the ambitious and proud Earl of Essex, played by Errol Flynn. She had no affection for Flynn in real life and the feeling was mutual. Flynn, in her view, lacked dedication to the profession of acting and she desperately tried to get Lawrence Oliver, who was in town with his wife, Vivien Leigh, who was making Gone With the Wind/ Olivier was not yet famous here, (but soon would be with Wuthering Heights and Rebecca), and Jack Warner, who spent a lot of money on this film, insisted on Flynn to help guarantee the box office. Years later, Bette's pal Olivia DeHavilland sat down with her to watch the film and Davis pronounced Flynn's performance "brilliant". But he was no longer around to enjoy the praise.

Flynn lacks the Shakespearean passion and presence Olivier would have brought to the role but he surely understood this proud, ambitious man and gives a capable performance. It's high praise to say that he's not blown away by Davis, for whom this film is a symphony of emotion. She not only has the love-hate relationship with Essex but, even late in her reign and life, (or perhaps because of it), she is both domineering and insecure. Her anxiousness for the fate of her fragile country, (England's great power came in later centuries) and the pain of a lifetime of unsuccessful relationships comes through in every scene, especially in the one where she commands that all the mirror in the palace be destroyed so she won't have to look at herself and be jealous of the pretty young ladies in her court.

The love story between Elizabeth and Essex is one of the many 'improvements' on history to be found in Flynn's films as well as many other movies of Hollywood's Golden Era, (and since). Elizabeth was twice Essex's age and there's no evidence of any kind of May-December romance. But in this film it becomes a tragic love story, one the emotional level of Romeo and Juliet but much more complex because R and J's fate was determined by a conflict forced upon them whereas this is about internal conflicts and flawed relationships. The final scene where Essex climbs what had been a hidden staircase for his final scene with his Queen and the descends again when they both agree that he must die is haunting. It's as if he's voluntarily entering Hell to save her and her England.

The film is a little unnerving these days, (2021) as we hear about Essex's army taking over the palace and being described as a 'mob'. I prefer to consign such thoughts to an 80-year-old movie. Maybe someday we will be able to do so again. The look of the film is fantastic, particularly if you've got the remastered DVD version. One quibble: the gunshots in the Ireland sequence sound as if some six-shooters were left over from Dodge City. The matchlock weapons of the time would have fired, (infrequently) with a small explosion. In fact, they were sometimes called 'hand cannons'.

Olivia De Havilland appears in a Flynn film for the 6th time but it wasn't a happy occasion for her, either. She plays a lesser role as one of the young pretties the Queen despises. She winds up conspiring against her and Essex and is told that this will cost her her life in the final scene. Olivia had fought hard to get to play Melanie in GWTW and Warner 'punished' her by giving her this lesser role in this film. It's also the third and last film in which she doesn't wind up in Flynn's arms, preferring Patrick Knowles in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'Four's a Crowd'. For the second and last time Alan Hale is Flynn's antagonist instead of his buddy. He lost a sword duel to Flynn in 'The Prince and the Pauper' but whips him in battle in this one.

The action of this one takes place about a decade after the action in "The Sea Hawk", a film Flynn made a year later that has some similarities but also some he differences to this one. I'll be discussing that comparison when I review that film.

Dodge City

Somebody's got to do something
Errol Flynn was now riding high and the studio decided to put him in a western - not just any western but possibly the biggest budget western to date. Everything about Dodge City is BIG. The biggest stampede, the biggest saloon brawl, the biggest lynch mob, the biggest train battle, etc. etc. (Scenes were shot for this film that were used in dozens of films and TV episodes for decades to come.) The cast is enormous and full of recognizable actors, (including five members of the same year's 'Gone With the Wind'). All the bigness obscures what is essentially a B movie plot in an epic frame.

The beginning of the film is a history lesson about the coming of the railroad and the death of the great buffalo herds. At the end, Flynn's hero, Wade Hatton is invited to come to Virginia City, (the title of a later Flynn western with an unrelated plot), to clean that other legendary town up. But in between it's the old one about the drifter who sides with the oppressed against the guy who owns the town. To me it seems a bit lesser than many of Flynn's other westerns because of the cliches. But it's usually cited as one of the big films of Hollywood's biggest year. It is certainly energetic and entertaining enough.

Basically, it's about standing up to the bad guys after several outrages as a series of characters fall victim to the heavies before the hero, a drifter who doesn't want to get involved feels obligated to act. Flynn becomes the sheriff of Dodge and institutes, of all things, gun control! He gets the goods on the town boss with Olivia De Havilland as the key witness and the final confrontation comes when Flynn tries to get her and a captured henchman out of town on a train that catches fire as the two sides battle it out.

One who wasn't' impressed was Olivia De Havilland, who was so upset to be playing Flynn's love interest in still another film that she cried between scenes. She's supposed to have made the absurd suggestion that she switch roles with Ann Sheridan as a raucous saloon girl. Starring in a big budget Hollywood film would not seems like something to cry about but actors are like that. There were three more Flynn films to come, one in a minor role in 'Elizabeth and Essex' and two very good roles in better westerns, 'Santa Fe Trail' and 'They Died With Their Boots On'. There was also GWTW, two Oscars and a famous lawsuit.

Flynn is supposed to have reservations of his own: What is he, an Australian, doing in the American West? The film tries to explain this with a lengthy description by Hale of all the adventures Wade Hatton has had all over the world. There was really no need. Nearly everyone in the West who wasn't an Indian or Mexican came from elsewhere. The stereotypical westerner didn't exist yet. A guy like Flynn, had he been born in the previous century, might have come here for the gold and silver rushes. Much of the money than went into the West came from the British Isles and the overseers of the big ranches were often from there. Then there were remittance men, members of wealthy families who were paid to go there after an estrangement. There would be seven more Flynn westerns to come and no attempt to explain how he got there was offered in any of them.

Among the featured players are Alan Hale and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams in their first pairing as Flynn's comic sidekicks, Bruce Cabot as the bad guy, Victor Jory and Ward Bond as two of his henchmen, Frank McHugh as a too-courageous newspaper editor, John Litel as a too determined cattleman, Bobs Watson as his too-cute son, Russell Simpson of 'The Grapes of Wrath' and many other recognizable faces. One is William Lundigan, a native of my town, (Syracuse NY), who like Ronald Reagan, was a good-looking radio announcer who decided to try his hand at Hollywood and wound up in several Flynn films in the 'second lead' role, although here he plays Olivia's foolish and drunken brother. He was also a pollical conservative who tried to follow Reagan's lead to a political career with less success and died early of a heart attack.

The suggestion that the saloon brawl be preceded by a musical duel of groups singing "Marching Through Georgia" and "Dixie" inspired the musical duel in 'Casablanca' is interesting. I confess that watching the comely Miss Sheridan in a sexy costume wandering through the brawl while a temperance meeting next door is compromised made me think of a certain scene in the 1970 film 'There Was A Crooked Man'. Perhaps that, too was inspired by 'Dodge City'.

The Dawn Patrol

Mission: Accomplished
Probably Errol Flynn's best dramatic film, certainly of his great period of the late 30's and early 40's. He and David Niven play that rare species- the veteran World War I pilot, who has flown flimsy crates to high altitudes to take part against similar fools in battle. Most of these heroes wound up being honored posthumously and the mortality rate of infant pilots was enormous. The pilots defended themselves emotionally from this with gallows humor and music and a 'devil may care' attitude that masked their actually very deep concerns. They even welcome a captured German flyer who shot down Niven's plane as a colleague of sorts and they all wind up getting drunk together.

The war seems like it will go on forever and has gone on forever. Peacetime seems like another lifetime. The great war machine keeps feeding young pilots who have barely learned to fly a plane into this meat-grinder. Their commander, Basil Rathbone, great in a sympathetic role after being a Flynn antagonist in two films, desperately wants to fly himself - much better to do it yourself than to send others out to die. But he was so good at it that he was promoted to a job where he wasn't allowed to lead the attacks himself. Yet he is just a middle manager- helpless in the face of a constant stream of heartless, even illogical orders from 'headquarters' to send out his men to perform miracles in their primitive machines. Flynn and Niven hate him while Rathbone is going mad.

The greatness of this film is that it doesn't stop with that situation. The story changes as the frames of film change to form a unified image. Rathbone gets promoted to headquarters, where he can at least fight the unrealistic expectations of the higher-ups. Flynn is appointed to replace him. I've always said that everybody's job is harder than someone who has never done it imagines and Flynn finds this out, especially when Niven's younger brother arrives in the latest batch of recruits. Niven wants to train him in the basic skills he'll need to have a chance to survive. But there's no time- the whole unit is needed for an assignment - except for Flynn who is now the one left behind after sending others to die, including, as it turns out, Niven's brother. Niven comes to hate Flynn as they both once hated Rathbone.

Eventually, Flynn, against orders, decides to fly a suicide mission himself rather than send Niven. Unlike the identical situation in the tepid "Another Dawn" from the previous year, we see this adventure in all it's glory, as Flynn in his little plane produces destruction on the level of James Bond with his little bombs but is fatally shot down on the way back, allowing Flynn to die gloriously for the second but not the last time in his cinematic career. Niven now has to assume Flynn's job and is just beginning to find out what that's like in the last scene.

He is by far the best of the 'second leads' that Flynn often had in his films, (others: Patrick Knowles, William Lundigan, Ronald Reagan). The supporting cast includes Donald Crisp as an older officer who, powerless to change things, just tries to keep everybody's spirits up, Melville Cooper, (the Sheriff of Nottingham in "The Adventures of Robin Hood"), as a similarly inclined sergeant and Barry Fitzgerald, who is in charge of handing out the booze.

You read in multiple sources that some other actors, (including Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart) considered Flynn 'lazy' or untalented and had contempt for his stardom. Look at this film and several others, including "Edge of Darkness", "Uncertain Glory", "Silver River" and "Too Much Too Soon" and you'll see a talented actor capable of playing complex roles with both strength and subtlety. "The Dawn Patrol", a remake of a 1930 film that is also very good, (and which provided much of the action footage for this one), stands as a great war movie in the best sense and one of the very best about "The Great War". Too bad it wasn't the "war to end all wars". At least Flynn got some more good pictures out of the next one.

The Sisters

Davis and Flynn playing against type
Bette Davis, Anita Louise and Jane Bryan play three small town siters who marry Errol Flynn, Alan Hale and Dick Foran and have problems with them, (Flynn can't get his life together, Hale is too old and Foran has an affair with the town tramp). The focus is on the two big stars and both are excellent, Davis as a practical girl who suddenly finds herself madly in love and Flynn as a guy who wants to be like Errol Flynn but lacks the confidence.

It must have been easy to look across the room and fall in love with Flynn, (although Davis in real life decidedly didn't), but up close he's not's not as good as he looks. He wants to have adventures and see the world but the farthest he's been able to get is to become a San Francisco sportswriter and dream of the great novel he's going to write. Bette gets him to actually try to write the novel but nobody wants to publish it. He loses his job in an argument with his boss. Bette goes to work and proves to be more conscientious and successful as an employee than her husband ever was, (I've seen something similar happen in real life - the man feels obligated to be the bread-winner and the more capable wife stays home). His failures get the better of him. He drinks too much and decides to leave her to become an adventurer aboard a ship just as the 1906 earthquake hits. He shows up a couple of years later when she's fully established in the business world and wants to marry her boss. Instead, she takes him back. That was the 'happy' ending, although to what happiness that will lead, we don't know. That's not how the book ends. The studio filmed both endings and let the preview audiences decide. It would be fun to see the other ending but the old VHS tape I have of this doesn't include it.

Davis, besotted with Flynn on screen, was disgusted with him off of it. She claimed he said "Why do you work so hard?" She was appalled when he was assigned to play Essex opposite her Elizabeth I the next year instead of Lawrence Olivier. Years later she watched that film with her friend Olivia de Havilland and admitted to her that "he really was good". But she didn't think so at the time so her performance as a well-grounded young women who sprouts wings when she sees him constitutes great acting. Flynn, for his part, does very well, a confident man playing one who isn't. He may have lacked focus on his career but he was never timid, as this man is. Yet he conveys his emptiness well. The character's alcoholism and failure as a husband may have anticipated his own problems in those areas but Flynn's troubles, whatever the cause, were very different than his character's. And I don't believe that he failed to work hard on this characterization: he was looking to prove he could 'act' and didn't consider swashbucklers as acting.

It's well known that there could have been a third film pairing Davis and Flynn. Jack Warner put together a package deal with Davis playing Scarlett O'Hara and Flynn Rhett Butler for Gone With the Wind but Davis would have none of it. Flynn could have been Rhett Butler- the sea captain who ran union blockades for a hefty profit, frequented Belle Watling's whorehouse and played poker with his Union captors while falling in love with the beautiful but tempestuous Scarlett. But he looked too young and pretty in the late 30's to have been the sardonic Rhett. He would have bene more convincing in the tole 10 years later when he looked more weathered. Gable was the perfect Rhett in 1939.

Four's a Crowd

Of course it's silly
Someone posted that this film was 'a silly screwball comedy'. Of course it is: if a comedy isn't silly, it's not screwball. This one may not be a classic, but all the elements are there: pompous rich people, scheming reporters and a love triangle, er...square. It also has the comic supporting actors to make sure it all works. The rich weren't very popular in the depression so they were easy targets. The public's obsession with celebrities was already in full force and another easy target. And love mix-ups have been the basis for comedy since that original screwball - Willie Shakespeare.

Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland may not be Cary Grant and Carole Lombard but they do perfectly well and Ros Russell is a screwball icon. Patrick Knowles does a fine job and Flynn's foil. Walter Connolly, as the grumpy oligarch repeats his performance from "It Happened One Night". Melville Cooper, (the fourth member of the cast from 'The Adventures of Robin Hood': he was the comically villainous Sheriff of Nottingham) is his butler. Franklin Pangborn shows up as Knowles' manservant. Hugh Herbert is a justice of the peace and Margaret Hamilton is Connolly's housekeeper.

This one is way in the background of Flynn's career and not the kind of movie he's famous for but it's a solid piece of entertainment anyway. The great stars of the Golden Age made many such films and it's fun to look back and discover them and get a complete picture of their careers.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

A Classic of World Cinema
This film is a classic of world cinema, the all-time romantic adventure film, with a serious backbone, a great love story but also wonderful action scenes and a great sense of fun to go with a perfect cast, unmatched production values and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's greatest musical score.

Errol Flynn is the perfect Robin Hood, romping through the film with a foolhardy confidence which he and his allies are able to back up. He can make an impassioned speech or play a delicate love scene with equal skill. He was doubled a lot more than it seemed in the action sequences but he was so handsome and athletic-looking it appeared he was not doubled at all. You could believe he could do anything. He and Basil Rathbone did much of the justly famous swordfight at the end. It's the one such scene in the film where the combatants really seem to want to harm each other, (in the others they just clang their swords).

Olivia De Havilland is a winsome Lady Marian, wearing some of the most spectacular costumes in cinema history. Rathbone is the perfect villain - articulate but arrogant and ruthless. (He was also an expert swordsman who cold run Flynn through at any time - but it would have ruined the picture.) Claude Rains is the effete, scheming Prince John. (How long would it have taken for one to get rid of the other had they won?) Melville Cooper is a comically corrupt but cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham, (usually the villain in these things). Alan Hale Jr. is such a perfect Little John that he played it three times - opposite Douglas Fairbanks in 1922, Flynn in 1938 and, of all people, John Derek, in 1950, (Hale's last film, done shortly before his death in January of that year). I think I spotted his son, Alan, Jr., (the Skipper on Gilligan's Island), who would have been a big and robust 16, playing one the archers in the tournament. He's dressed in a tattered brown outfit, standing just behind Flynn as Robin wins the tournament. Herbert Mundin is the unprepossessing but feisty Much the Miller's son. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Ona O'Connor is the sharp-tongued lady in waiting to Maid Marian and Much's eventual mate. Ian Hunter provides the necessary presence for Richard the lion-hearted. Montagu Love, the excellent henry VIII in the previous year's 'The Prince and the Pauper', is the dour Bishop of the Black Canons. Eugene Pallette, an unlikely swordsman, plays friar Tuck, also an unlikely swordsman. Poor Patrick Knowles, as Will Scarlett, is given little to do but parade around in a suit of that color that hardly would enable him to hide in the forest.

Like most of Flynn's best films, this one kind of winks at history. Richard was no paragon of virtue. John may not have been as bad as depicted. The Normans and the Saxons had assimilated by 1191. Robin Hood is an amalgamation of many tales of outlaws in various ballads over the centuries. Attempts have been made to identify a real source for him and other fictional character like Maid Marian, Guy of Gisborne, Wil Scarlett and others but these attempts inevitably fail. Friar Tuck seems to have bene a combination of two different Friars and there have been sheriffs of Nottingham for over 1,000 years but we don't know which one appears in this story. It doesn't really matter: it's what these characters represent to us that matters: heroism, love, comedy, freedom, cruelty, corruption, deprivation - all the different aspects of the human condition.

Korngold initially didn't want to do the score for this, thinking that an action film wouldn't have the emotional content he wanted to display in his music. He was going to go home to Austria but the Anschluss kept him in Hollywood so he composed a score full of emotion that adds so much to this film. Two other experts also contributed mightily: Harold Hill, regarded as the best archer of all time, who unleashed every arrow you see without harming anyone and fencing master Fred Cavens, who choreographed all the swordfights, including the famous one at the film's end.

In the commentary on the 65th anniversary DVD, Rudy Behlmer tells us that 'the Adventures of Robin Hood' was the fifth most often presented film on television, behind #1 'Casablanca', then 'King Kong', 'The Magnificent Seven' and 'The Maltese Falcon'. That's pretty good company.

Upstairs, Downstairs: Your Obedient Servant
Episode 7, Season 2

Holding up the standards
Often times it's people who have risen to their ceiling in the middle of a hierarchy who do the most to hold up the standards of that hierarchy, since it gives them a status they would not otherwise have. Consider Mamie in Gone With the Wind lecturing Scarlett on propriety or old saying that "Generals run the wart but the sergeants run the Army".

In this one we see Hudson entertaining his brother's family on a visit from the far reaches of the empire, where he has bene a noted bridge-builder. he takes them out to a fancy restaurant. only to be seen there by his employer, Richard Bellamy, who is there with his own brother, who is appalled that a butler would eat at a fancy restaurant, "with his betters" Hudson is embarrassed to the point of being mortified and expecting to be fired. Richard, being a decent chap, is forgiving and even says that Hudson is free to spend his money, ( actually borrowed from Mrs. Bridges), in any way he likes. Hudson is appalled that his employer doesn't have the same standards he has, (but ultimately relieved that he doesn't and he can keep his job).

The Perfect Specimen

Not perfect but a pretty good specimen
I find most of Errol Flynn's minor films, well...minor. But this one is an exception. The premise seems one-joke gimmicky: Flynn has been raised by his grandmother to be perfect in every way, except that he lacks any experience of life, being kept a prisoner on her estate until Joan Blondell breaks through the fence surrounding the estate with her car, (a recurring, unsubtle motif). She convinces him to escape and see what life is like and he eventually does so, leading to a series of amusing misadventures reminiscent of 'It Happened One Night'. As reviewer 'SimonJack' points out, both films are based on magazine article by the same author, Samuel Hopkins Adams. If felt this to be as good but the I've always felt that 'it Happened' was a little over-rated, at least by the Oscars. Both films are amiable and fun and worth watching.

Flynn does a good job of playing the good-natured innocent. The flimsy premise comes not to even matter that much as he becomes just a guy trying to become independent from his grandmother and who has fallen for Blondell. This is one of Joan's best roles. In other films I've seen, she's the wise-cracking girlfriend of the hero or heroine. Here she's a romantic lead not at all dependent on zingers. The emotions of a woman falling in love but unsure she wants to join that family play well over her face. The film is full of Warner's wonderful character actors who, as a group, probably contributed as much to their films as their stars did.

Another Dawn

A tidbit on IMDB's 'Trivia' page says that for years, when there was a movie marquee in a Warner Brother's film, the film playing was called 'Another Dawn' so they finally decided to make a film called that. They also decided to get another film out of the impressive fort they'd built for "The Charge of the Light Brigade' and out of the now-forgotten Kay Francis, who said "I don't do much in it. Things just happen about me. I am just a wife who has been unfortunate in love, as usual." They also recycled part of the plot from 'Charge' by having Flynn heroically go on a suicide mission so Francis, with whom he is having a love affair, can stay with her husband, his commanding officer. But Flynn had become such a big star they changed their minds and had the Colonel, (played by Ian Hunter), go off in his stead, allowing Flynn and Francis to live happily ever after, assuming they don't fall for somebody else.

Other than that last-minute change, this is the most predictable movie of all time. From early on, you know exactly what is going to happen to each character and often in the next scene. Herbert Mundin ahs been branded a coward by his fellow soldiers. He heroically sacrifices his life to get them the ammunition they need to save their lives. Imagine that...

The film was clearly done on the cheap as the climactic sacrifice by the colonel is unrepresented except by a dispatch. Flynn is also shown dressing for a party that we hardly see. Contrast that to the scenes in the 'Charge'. Originally, the locale was supposed to be Iraq but here it's called, improbably "Dickit". The Colonel waxes poetic about the benign British empire" I see great wealth and an independent nation because England had faith in it". 'Classicsoncall' has pointed out that the poetic dialog doesn't bear close examination by fans of logic. There's some action but not a patch on 'Charge' or rest of Flynn's great films. The one laudable thing about the film is the excellent music by Korngold, who combined it with his score from 'The Prince and the Pauper' to create his marvelous piano concerto. But here the music is so go and the film so mediocre that the music overpowers the action rather than highlighting it or deepening the emotions it produces.

The Crown: War
Episode 10, Season 4

The View From Here on Season 4
I've just completed watching Season 4 and enjoyed it just as much as previous seasons, actually moreso than Season 3. I felt the second cast really grew into their roles in Season 4. Olivia Coleman was much more relaxed than in S3. Her characterization, which was rather stone-faced in S3, seemed much more natural with various shadings and very human reactions. She seemed much more an older version of Claire Foy's young sovereign in S1-2. Tobias Menzies also scored big, giving us a much more agreeable Prince Phillip than in S1-3 or "The Queen". Josh O'Connor is the best physical match for his character and has Prince Charles' posture down perfectly. Emma Corrin looks more like the teenage Lady Di than the adult Princess Di. her face is rounder and her jaw line different. She seems not to mature. It's probably best that we shall have another actress in the next series. But she's very good as the naïve young Di. Helena Bonham-Carter is given the opportunity to dig deeply into Princess Margaret and scores strongly enough to make me almost forget the excellent but inappropriately taller Vanessa Kirby in S1-2. Marion Bailey as the Queen Mother, Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, Tom Byrne at Prince Andrew and Angus Irmie as Prince Edward appear briefly and their characterizations thus lack depth but they do well with what they are given.

Early on i thought Gillian Anderson's performance as Maggie Thatcher belonged on Splitting Image or SNL. But like Olivia Coleman, she improved as the performance developed from episode to episode and I thought she was quite good at the end, although I wasn't able to see her character in a sympathetic light, even n the finals scene where she graciously accepted the Order of Merit in private from the Queen. I wonder what she really thought of getting an award from someone she had clashed with?

The storytelling is great, especially in the editing which is brisk and telling. The production values and photography are first-class. It made me want to watch the previous seasons, especially 1 and 2 again and look forward to Season 5, when we'll have a whole new cast and even bigger events to deal with.

How true was it all? I have no idea. You'd have to be a fly on the wall to confirm most of what we see here. Was Prince Charles really that myopic and selfish? Was Diana really that childish? Was Prince Phillip really that knowing and sympathetic? I have no idea. But it's a great show.

The Lusty Men

Hard to see what the fuss is about
So many people think is an exceptional film. I just saw it on TCM and the only thing that stood out was a very good performance from Susan Hayward as the reluctant wife of a new rodeo star. She's afraid he'll get hurt and wants him to quit as soon as he's won enough money for a ranch. That's literally the whole plot. Robert Mitchum is on the sidelines as a veteran rodeo cowboy who has "ridden too many bulls" but seems young and fit. Arthur Kennedy is an odd choice for the new star. He doesn't seem very athletic and was older than Mitchum. The ending is Hollywood hokum. Nicholas Ray directed it but it hardly compares to the previous year's "In a Lonely Place". Better things were to come for all concerned.

The Prince and the Pauper

Perfectly delightful imperfect history
A fun and light-hearted romp through Tudor England with some good serious moments, too. The Mauch twins, (who later became a film and a sound editor in Hollywood for many years), play Prince Edward and Tom Canty in the delightful Mark Twain story. Errol Flynn is an ideal Myles Hendon, a lover of adventure and his freedom who comes to the rescue of young pauper only to find that he thinks that he's Prince Edward - and he's right! The film has one of those splendid Warner Brothers casts with Claude Rains as a conniving minister, (good practice to play King John the next year), Henry Stephenson as his rival, Montagu Love as a splendid Henry VIII, Alan Hale in his first film with his friend-to-be Flynn, (to whom he loses a swordfight) and Barton McLane as the bad guy's bad guy.

The best scene is the penultimate one where the Prince who is a Pauper has to remember where he put the Great Seal of England with the help of the Pauper who is a Prince and a royal go-fer who has to rush off to the palace each time they come up with a possible location. (Why didn't they just re-introduce the dog who knows which is witch from an earlier scene? I guess that wouldn't have been as much fun.)

The film is, as most of Flynn's films were, enhanced by a splendid score from either Max Steiner or, (as here) Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who used the themes here in his wonderful violin concerto in D Major, Op 35, of which there are several versions on-line, (I love Hillary Hahn's).

Also like so many of Flynn's films, it is ahistorical, especially in the presentation of personalities. Edward was not such a sweet boy as we see here and died very young. Rain's character, the Earl of Herford, became the Lord Protector of England for the first two years of Edward's reign, which began when he was just 10 - the Mauchs were 16, an age Edward never reached. Nor was the Duke of Norfolk the benign figure we see in Henry Stephenson. He never left the Tower during Edward's reign and was certainly not in put charge of anything.

But the writers aren't lying to us: they are just improving on history, as a sculptor improves of a slab of stone.

A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote

A nice effort
I re-watched the original episode and this is a good re-telling of it with a laudable mission of getting out the vote. Presenting it on stage with no audience and minimal sets was well handled and I didn't miss the old sets. The actors from the show slipped into their old roles like riding a bicycle.

I was less than satisfied with Sterling K. Brown in the Leo McGarry role, replacing the late John Spencer. Spencer had a wry sense of humor and a way with the Sorkin dialog that hit all the right notes, He was also a sort of gnome-like figure with a wizened visage, (I could see him playing a live-action Yoda or Casey Stengel). Sterling K. Brown plays him like a stone-faced statue. I was trying to think of who i would rather have seen in the role. and Samuel Jackson came on to urge people to vote. Why not him? He's not identical to Spencer either but he's more interesting than Brown, who seems to have won a Dule Hill look-alike contest with that beard.

And where did Allison Janney get that hairdoo? It makes her look 20 years older. Actually, I guess she is. They all are. Which is why if they bring this show back, they need a new cast. Actually I thought it would have bene interesting to have Alan Alda win that 2006 election and see what the writers could do with a moderate Republican administration , contesting the Democrats but also the militant right wing of their own party that ahs done so much to wreck our politics since then. Maybe they can do something like that now.

As to this being candy for the left wing in this country, the only reason why getting out the vote is considered a partisan issue is because the Republicans have said they would lose if everybody voted and are trying to suppress it.

Green Light

Why green?
After Captain Blood and The Charge of the light brigade, Errol Flynn wanted a change of pace. This film, the story of a young doctor seemed to fill the bill. It also gave Flynn the chance, in his view to 'act' since this was a drama instead of an adventure. In truth, he did more acting in his previous films, playing more complex characters.

Here he's a sort of Aussie Dr. Kildare, (although the hospital is in Boston). He covers for a respected mentor when the older doctor makes a mistake in surgery at the expense of his own reputation. He then travels to Montana to help a colleague do battle with Rocky mountain spotted fever. We then get a clinical analysis of that disease followed by a second selfless act by Flynn as he injects himself with a potential vaccine and develops the fever. When he recovers, they have a vaccine. (We could use him now!) There's also a love triangle as Flynn is loved by his loyal nurse, (the under-rated Margaret Lindsay), and the daughter of the woman who didn't survive the surgery (the not underrated Anita Louise), who starts hating Flynn but comes to love him. Floating over the proceedings is a stone-faced Cedric Hardwick whose every line is a speech about self-sacrifice. He keeps talking about God's green light showing us the way. Why green?

I think I would have liked the story better if Flynn had actually been responsible for the botched surgery and was seeking to redeem himself instead of just his reputation. That would have placed this story more on the level of the same author's 'Magnificent Obsession'. I was left wondering how selfless it is to allow the doctor who actually made the mistake to continue his career and operate on others. Shouldn't we selflessly care about his future patients?

There was some pleasure in seeing a Flynn film I'd never seen before. The great stars made many movies like this when they weren't making the films they are famous for. They may be 2 star films instead of 3 or 4 star films but they are still solid A-level pictures and worth the time to check them out if you are a fan of the star. When I watch them, it's almost like the people in these films came alive and made another film just for me.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Hollywood's historical smorgasbord
In 1854, a troop of British light cavalry under mistaken orders, charged a Russian battery at Balaclava, a port on the northern part of the Black Sea and got badly shot up. It was part of the Crimean War, a fight between the European powers and the Russians for control of the Black Sea. In 1857, resentments over the treatment of Sepoys, native Indians who were made part of the British armed forces and of the loss of lands previously controlled by the Maratha Confederacy led Nana Sahib, who would have bene the leader of that Confederacy, to rebel against the British and slaughter the British garrison at Kanpur, (which the British called Cawnpore). These events took place three years apart, 3,000 miles away and have nothing to do with each other. Nana Sahib disappeared after the Cawnpore massacre and could have gone to the Crimea but if he did, it would have been three years after the charge there.

These events took place three years apart, 3,000 miles away and have nothing to do with each other. Until 1936. Hollywood at that time was beginning a run of what I call "Eastern Westerns"- adventures taking place in North Africa, the Middle East or India. Instead of the American Indians, the enemy was the natives of the area- the Arabs and genuine Indians, with the head bad guy usually shown as a dangerous fanatic and his men his mindless supplicants. Instead of the US Cavalry it was the British Army or the French Foreign Legion. The European heroes were trying to main control of their colonies just like the British soldiers we fought in our revolution. But they were Europeans- from our mother countries. They also represented major markets for American films. So they were the good guys. The first three quarters of the "Charge of the Light Brigade" is an "Eastern Western" and one of the best, a rival to "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935) and "Gunga Din" (1939). To give it a big ending, they tied it to an unrelated but very famous event: the title charge.

They weren't ignorant of the actual history of these events. Instead they looked at history as a smorgasbord of dramatic situations which they could use to good advantage. The resulting story is absurd on its face: The 1854 charge being vengeance for the 1857 massacre, (maybe preemptive vengeance is a better idea: it seems to be the basis of our foreign policy sometimes). But there is considerable accurate historical detail in the telling of the two stories, which in a way makes them more factual that the purely fictional stories of "Bengal Lancer" and "Gunga Din" and the others.

The resulting film opens with a disclaimer: "This production has it's basis in history. The historical basis, however, has been fictionalized for the purposes of this picture and the names of many characters themselves, the story, incidents and the institutions are fictitious. With the exception of known historical characters whose actual names are herein used no identification with actual persons living or dead should be inferred." Truer words were never spoken. It's just a movie folks. (They add that the action of the film takes place "c1856" as opposed to 1857 and then 1854)

But it's more than just a movie. It's an homage to colonialism. It's also a reaction, strangely, to Bolshevism. Many people look at Count Volonoff the Russian officer who is with "Surat Khan", (the Nana Sahib character), and think he resembled Stalin, even though he's playing a Czarist officer. There was a lot of fear of Russia at that time, (and later), and the thought was in people's minds that we might be having a war with Russia at some point where we might have to make some charges of our own. These days, audiences tend to see something different. The Chukoti , (Cawnpore) Massacre becomes 9/11 in their minds. Surat Kahn, (Nana Sahib) becomes Osama Bin Laden, (also a freedom fighter/terrorist from a rich family), and the Charge becomes the revenge we wanted to- and eventually did- exact on Bin Laden.

You can see those things if you want. Or you can just watch a very exciting, well put together movie. Michael Curtiz was a hard man to work for and he was more of a highly skilled mechanic than an artist. There isn't a "Curtiz" film the way there is a Hitchcock film, a John Ford Film, a Bergman or Fellini film. But he sure knew how to film a scene and tell a story and he directed a great many of Warner's best films of the era. He was such a hard driving guy that Flynn came to hate him and eventually refused to work with him but most of Flynn's early successes were Curtiz films.

Today this film is most famous for a ruthless means used for making the horses fall over on cue as if they had been shot: it was called a "Running W" and the impact of it was often to break the horse's legs, necessitating that they be "destroyed". This method had been in use in Hollywood for some time and was used in other films but was never used on a mass basis like this before and some 200 horses were killed making this film. Curtiz took most of the blame for this and it seemed to symbolize the ruthless way in which he ordered people around in making his pictures. There was such an outcry that Congressed passed a law outlawing the use of "Running W's". All of Flynn's other big hits were re-released periodically by Warner's but this one wasn't because of the controversy: it didn't reappear until it was shown on television years later when my little friends and I doted on it.

The film starts with Flynn, (Captain Geoffrey Vickers), escorting a diplomat to the court of Surat Kahn, with whom Flynn is actually friendly but very vary. The diplomat explains to Surat Kahn that the British will not continue to pay the "pension" to him that his father received because the agreement they had with his father didn't pass on to the next generation. This is very much taken from fact. They go on a leopard hunt and Flynn saves Surat Kahn after he falls from his elephant and is attacked by a leopard. A smiling Kahn, (played by a wonderfully reptilian C. Henry Gordon) tells him he will never forget this and shakes his hand. There's some foreshadowing here: when the leopard attacks Khan is lying on his back, screaming. He will end the film that way, as well.

We are presented with an irrelevant romantic sub-plot involving Vickers, his younger brother Perry, (played by Patric Knowles, thought to be a Flynn look-alike- I don't see it and neither did they- who became his life-long friend), and Olivia de Havilland. Olivia's real purpose is to be representative of the women and children who were victimized by the subsequent massacre, (although she escapes it). The one thing I like about the scenes between Flynn and Knowles and then de Havilland is how relaxed and confident Flynn appears as an actor. He says the words with a lot of feeling but also a lot of intelligence and subtlety. He's advanced by leagues over the actor he was in Captain Blood.

Vickers is sent on a mission to obtain horses for the Crimea. The information given is confusing. He's initially told that he's to go to "the Tartar countries" to get the horses and deliver them to "Batum" on the eastern end of the black sea. Later Flynn tells Olivia that he's going to "the Arabian frontier". The Tartars where what the Russians called the Mongols, who overran India and the Middle East in the Genghis Kahn era. A map in the film shows Flynn's troop moving from Calcutta across what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan, past the Caspian Sea and into Persia, where they get into a fire fight with the locals. But they deliver their horses to Batum, (now called Batumi), from where they would be shipped to the Crimea. They don't go near Arabia. But even the trip described would have been 3000 miles as the crow flies, the distance from New York to Los Angeles. Why would a troop of cavalry in India be given such an assignment? Presumably horses could have been shipped through the Dardanelles straights in Turkey to the Crimea. I think the purpose of this expedition is to convince the American audience, who wouldn't have been very familiar with that area of the world that the Crimea was close to India and thus connecting these two stories made some geographical sense.

The facts of the Cawnpore Massacre are presented rather faithfully, including the commander of the fort reading the bible before he was killed. The writers could be historically accurate when they wanted to be. This sets up the amazing final sequence of the film. You can view this in many ways. You can view it as a piece of Hollywood hokum, a bowdlerization of history. You can view it as a tribute to colonialism, a justification for vengeance or the appalling slaughter of horses for the purposes of entertainment. I can't argue with any of those views. But even knowing those things, I think it's one of the most powerful scenes in the history of the movies. Curtiz switches from general shots from the side, showing the impressive ranks moving forward relentlessly, shots from the heights at the end of the valley, showing the brigade advancing toward the camera, shots of the Russian batteries, shots of horses and riders going down, individual vignettes, back and forth. And it's all real- so much more impressive than the computer-generated ranks of soldiers in "Lord of the Rings". But what really makes it work is the amazing music of Max Steiner. It contains all the elements of the situation- a jaunty march at the beginning, a hard-driving beat that emphasizes both the seriousness of the situation and the relentlessness determination of the Lancers, bugle calls and more than a hint of insanity. It makes the scene more than impressive- it makes it mesmerizing- and unforgettable.

Captain Blood

Captain Flynn
This is the first Flynn film that really matters, the one that made him a star. It was Warner's attempt to get into the making of swashbucklers after years of gangster films and musicals. Both he and they were, to use a Hitchcock term, "talented amateurs". The film is full of exuberance and has some charming and exciting moments but has some awkwardness to it as well. The script is full of "forsooths" and methinks"- Warner's writers learned to use more colloquial language in future films. The action scenes are more limited and more obviously miniatures than in "The Sea Hawk", (1940). (Some of them are taken from Warner's silent 1925 film of that name).There is a duel with Basil Rathbone but it's not a patch on their confrontation in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938).

Still it's an entertaining film with no less than three sets of villains, first the British under King James II, then the Spanish, then the French, (how did they miss the Germans and the Russians? It has sea battles, land battles and that duel. But the best scene is when Dr. Peter Blood is on trial before a judge who doesn't believe he's a doctor- just another rebel. Blood replies: "Faith, there's a witness that you can't deny: yourself, sir! For if I'm not a physician, how is it I know that you're a dying man? The death to which you're dooming hundreds of poor men daily - in a frantic effort to send their souls to perdition before your own - is a light pleasantry compared to the bleeding death in the lungs to which the great Judge has condemned you." (The judge has tuberculosis.)

But the best thing about the film is the initial pairing of Flynn and Olivia De Havilland, (still a teenager), the first of 8 films together. They are young and attractive and enthusiastic, clearly hoping for the great success that would come their way. It's also the first of seven Flynn films scored by the great Erich Wolfgang Korngold. He considered film to be "opera without the signing". It's a good description of "Captain Blood". The "Pirates of the Caribbean" series contains a lot of homage to this film and "The Sea Hawk". The stunning technological virtuosity of that series can't make up for the lack of much of a plot and the paper-thin characterizations and relationships, which, when well done, cause you to care about the characters and give the action sequences genuine meaning. Also the action sequences in POTC are so fantastic as to totally depart from reality and are thus unconvincing, (the hero and heroine get married in the middle of a swordfight while boarding a ship that is going down a whirlpool!) I've often wondered what the people who made "Captain Blood" and "The Sea Hawk" would have thought of "Pirates of the Caribbean". I think they would have been amazed at the technology but also at the total inability to tell a coherent story.

There's a personal irony for Flynn here. Just a couple of years before this he was a young Australian adventurer in New Guinea who found the easiest way to accumulate money was "recruiting"- paying local native chiefs to give him a group of laborers whose services he would sell to local planters or those digging for gold, with a promise, not always kept, to return them to the tribes later. A lot of people viewed this as a form of slavery and it was illegal. Here Dr. Peter Blood and the rebels he treated become indentured servants and are sent to the West Indies, specifically Jamaica to be sold and work as slaves, to their bitter resentment. In a second irony, Flynn in 1947 was in one of his many epic cruises- this one from California around Cape Horn to the West Indies, when a storm forced him to put into the nearest port- which turned out to be Jamaica. He fell in love with the real Jamaica and made it his home for the rest of his life.

Don't Bet on Blondes

Bet on Flynn, instead
This is chapter 2 in my journey through Errol Flynn's career. Since 'In the Wake of the Bounty' (1933), he'd spent a year and a half in England, some of it with the Northampton Repertory Company, where he really learned to act, and seeking employment in London West End and in the film studios. He made a now lost film, 'Murder at Monte Carlo' (1935) and got the call to come to Warner Brothers in America. His first role there was as a corpse in a morgue in a Perry Mason movie, (there were several in the 30's, many of them starring Warren William as Mason, as this one does), 'The Case of the Curious Bride' (1935). Errol appears in flashbacks as a long-thought-dead first husband who wants to be paid to go away and does - the hard way with his wife being blamed for it. Flynn would get revenge of a sort by running Raymond Burr through in a swordfight in 'The Adventures of Don Juan' (1949). I haven't bene able to find a complete version of this film, just a trailer and one scene on You-Tube. Flynn appears in neither.

This was another Warren William vehicle in which Flynn appeared for 5 minutes as a suitor for a woman William has fallen in love with. William manages by a ploy to take him out of the running as a potential husband. William a mostly forgotten but deft actor with great presence, is a gambler who decided that setting up an insurance agency for things nobody else would ever insure is about the same thing. He's asked to ensure that a pretty and successful young actress will not marry until her father, who is dependent on the allowance she gives him until he finishes a book he is writing. William signs him up for a $50,000 policy and arranges through his Runyonesque associates to eliminate potential suitors in semi-comic fashion. Flynn is one of them and sheepishly looks on as William's henchmen come up to a table where he's sitting with the young lady and express their friendship with him, also handing him an envelope full of money and a gun wrapped in a newspaper. Unfortunately, Errol isn't given any lines of note and his appearance in this film lasts about 5 minutes.

But the picture, which only lasts 58 minutes but has a fast pace, is reasonably entertaining. But it's very minor thing compared to what was to come. The bit parts were over.

In the Wake of the Bounty

Every journey has a first step
Here we see Errol Flynn as a 25-year-old wondering what to do with his life. He was a wonderfully intelligent man who was expelled from school after school and later educated himself on whatever subject interested him better than any school could. He got a job as a clerk for a shipping company, then took off for New Guinea, looking for adventure. He briefly had a government job, somehow became a copra plantation overseer, got involved in gold mining and "recruiting' workers for the plantations and gold fields from the local tribes, a process that has been compared to slavery because recruiters made deals with the tribal chiefs to have tribe members assigned to the m and many were mistreated, something Flynn claims in his autobiography, 'My Wicked, Wicked Ways', he did not do. Flynn tells stories of crossing a stream with a bunch of recruits and of having a boat overturned and watching one of his men eaten by crocodiles and of killing a native in shoot-out and being put on trial for murder. He was acquitted because the body could not be found. Whether these things happened to him or someone else- or happened at all- has been disputed. He then bought a boat, which he called the 'Sirocco' and sailed it from Australia to New Guinea. Where he became overseer at a tobacco plantation and began writing about his adventures.

Flynn, in My Wicked Wicked Ways says that a producer he called 'Joel Schwartz' chartered the Sirocco. This may have been Charles Chauvel, the producer/director of 'In the Wake of the Bounty' who then hired the handsome Flynn to portray Fletcher Christian in a few brief dramatic scenes wrapped around what was really a travelogue/documentary about the Bounty, the descendants of it's mutineers, Tahiti and Pitcairn island.

The documentary is pretty good but the dramatic scenes are pretty dire with amateurish acting on cheap sets in an Australian studio. Flynn looks clueless and nervous but is still better than the scenery chewers in the rest of the cast, who aren't helped by a terrible script. But it was enough to give Flynn the acting bug and he decided to head for England to learn the profession with his pal and fellow roisterer, Dr. Herman Erben, (called Dr. Gerrit Koets in MWWW), with various adventures and misadventures along the way, some of which may have actually happened, (and others not). Erben later developed a fascination with Hitler that caused some to assume that Flynn shared his views, which he most assuredly did not. In England, Flynn did repertory theater and really learned to act, then did a lost film. "Murder at Monte Carlo", a lost film that had to have been better than this - it's what convinced Warner Brothers to give him a contract.

There's a "bell curve" to Flynn's career. Easily his worst films were this first one and his last, "Cuban Rebel Girls", (1959), another amateurish affair that gives no clue as to the greatness in between. From dust to dust....

Gunsmoke: The Hostage
Episode 12, Season 11

Does Ford County have a Sheriff?
Matt is captured by some desperadoes who want to use him as a hostage to get to the Mexican border, (a fer piece from Dodge), They actually leave a note that the Sheriffs of all the various counties along the way should be informed so they can actually meet them with a posse and see that they have Dillon and are prepared to kill him if they can't go through peacefully. Somehow this almost works as the various Sheriffs let them go through until a dispute between two of the desperadoes gives Dillon an opening to force a climactic battle.

I would think that, at best, these guys would have had an escort to the border of each sheriff's posse to make sure they freed Dillon when they got there and that the Mexican authorities would be waiting for them at that point. But beyond that, I find it interesting that every country they go through has a sheriff but Ford County, where Dodge City lies, does not.

The reason of course, is that Marshal Dillon operates not only as a US Marshal but also the Dodge City town Marshal and, in effect, the Sheriff of Ford County. The writers wanted to have stories centered in Dodge, stories that take place in the surrounding countryside and stories about him trailing outlaws to various places so they gave him all three jobs at once,which one person could never do. In real life Luke Short was the Marshal of Dodge, Bat Masterson was the Sheriff of Ford County and US Marshals patrolled Oklahoma territory or went after fugitives. They were three different jobs. Who breaks up the fights at the Long Branch when Matt's away? Oh, and Short and Masterson both have several deputies. The writers wanted Matt to do everything, so all he gets are Chester and Festus.

Soldier of Fortune

The Why of Things
This is a good, not great, adventure done in Cinemascope in the mid-50's showing off the sights of Hong Kong and the talents of a good cast in a reasonably involving story. One point of order: Gable is not a 'Soldier of Fortune' - a guy who hires out to perform daring tasks. He's a former soldier with a fortune - a GI cashiered from the Army when he punched an officer who got involved in the underworld of trading in the far east with such great success that a decade later, he's living like a potentate and master of all he surveys. We see him viewing Hong Kong from on high in the first shot, atop a mountain that can only be accessed by a train that climbs up the side, looking down on all the people who haven't made it as big as he has. He should be an arrogant man, unconcerned with other people's problems. But then we see him descending in the train, looking out the window with a look on his face as if something's missing in his life. It's a brilliant scene, one that establishes something important about the main character.

Later, when he meets Susan Hayward, a woman searching for her adventurous photographer husband, who has been captured by the Red Chinese, you might think he'd take a Rick Blaine-type attitude and tell her that her problems are not his concern, (only to be persuaded later that they are). Instead he's more like an older Rhett Butler, (of course he's older- it's 1955!), who is something of a rogue himself but recognizes quality in other people. He falls for her immediately, perhaps because he admires her perseverance in trying to get her husband back. The script requires that he at first turn her away but it isn't long before they are re-connected. The fact that he's never been married but thinks that it's time he did something about it is made clear. In this initial scene, we see that he's father to three orphaned children, although we meet only one who tells the lady, ('Jane Hoyt') that someday they are going back to where their father was born. Gable's 'Hank Lee' plays a tape recording he had made of the sounds of Chicago, his home town just so he can listen to it. The flagship of his fleet of Chinese Junks is also called 'Chicago'. He's done everything he wanted to do in Asia. Now he wants a wife and he wants to go home.

Ms. Hoyt tells him that her husband's desire for adventure has made their marriage difficult but that she's never wanted to change her husband into some other kind of man. That's a statement that would appeal to a strong man like Hank Lee who wants a wife but doesn't want to be someone else. A spy takes a picture of them drinking a toast in a restaurant. The picture finds it way to the Red Chinese commandant who is holding Mr. Hoyt, (Gene Barry in an early role) prisoner. The commandant uses it to try to demoralize his prisoner but it also gets him to thinking that perhaps his wife deserves better than him and maybe she's found it.

The biggest weak points of the film are the suddenness of Lee and Mrs. Hoyt, (Hayward was in the competition for Scarlett O'Hara and probably would have made a good one), falling for each other and the ease which which Lee and a small band rescue Mr. Hoyt in a 20 minute finale. The strong points are Hong Kong, the performances of the cast, with strong leads and several excellent character actors and the deft way the desires of the main characters are incorporated into the script, leading to the 'reverse Casablanca' finale where Lee is again seen in his perch high above Hong Kong only to have Mrs. Hoyt get off the train to be with him.

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