A new AFL stadium in Tasmania? – Maybe an “Errol Flynn Stadium”?
Will fans travel the yellow tint road?
— Gentleman Tim
Le retour du Zaca, le célèbre bateau d’Errol Flynn, à Villefranche
— Gentleman Tim
Parrying on from where where PW began and Flynning off of sabreheinz’s Swashbucklin’ Like Flynn
Whether it’s Errol in Robin Hood or Mel in Braveheart, Hollywood has always had a love affair with historical characters who fight with swords ….
— Gentleman Tim
In an otherwise definitive round up of non-Errol swashbucklers, I am surprised no-one has mentioned the ‘The Duellists’ (1977), which was winner of The Cannes Festival Best Film Debut. It starred Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel and was the first movie directed by Ridley Scott.
‘The Duellists’ is notable for containing the longest duel in film history. Only Errol wouldn’t have been Flynned alive in this picture. The story is based on a Joseph Conrad novella, The Duel, which in turn was based on an incident reported in a French newspaper in the 19th century.
It concerns two officers in Napoleon’s Hussars, Lt. Armand D’Hubert (Carradine)and Lt. Gabriel Feraud (Keitel), who first meet in 1800 and fight an inconclusive duel with rapiers. Their rivalry intensifies as they find themselves on opposing political and romantic sides, and whenever they chance to meet they take up their duel where they left off. This continues for fifteen years, until Carradine finally decides to spare Keitel’s life.
Errol would have loved the film poster’s stand first: ‘Fencing is a science…loving is a passion….duelling is an obsession.’
Below, Carradine and Keitel (it’s only just beginning…)
I sometimes make mental lists of which actresses I would have liked to have seen play opposite Errol, and at the top is Eleanor Parker. The Canadian Parker was a classical, almost aristocratic beauty, given spice by her incredible slanted eyes, the colour of Anatolian waters, and her tumbling hair that reminds one of a winter sunset. She could dance, fight, play a queen or a serving wench with equal aplomb, was a fine comedienne and with her curves like the hull of the Zaca, looked sensational in a period costume, even when it bordered on the camp.
She starred in only one swashbuckler, a film we have been discussing – Scaramouche – as the fiery on-off love interest of Stewart Granger. Able as Granger was in this picture (and in my view it was his best; with the exceptional six minute fencing match), he was a bit of a one-note as an actor and never quite did it for me in the boudoir department. How I wish it had been Errol sparring with Eleanor in glorious technicolour and exaggerated 18th Century costumes.
As a performer, Parker was streets ahead of 50s bombshells like Ava Gardner and Janet Leigh. A very distinguished actress, Parker was Oscar nominated more than once. She should have won for Interrupted Melody (1955), in which she played the crippled soprano Marjorie Lawrence, opposite Glenn Ford and a young Roger Moore.
It is the best operatic biopic ever made, in my view (aside from The Great Caruso), and she gives a stellar and harrowing performance. See it if you can. I think it is on DVD.
Parker also played Kirk Douglas’s troubled wife in Detective Story, a mid-50s noir – sadly, it was more grey than noir. She was also put in a second-rate Egyptian ‘adventure’, with an ageing Robert Taylor, called Valley Of the Kings (how very original.)
Had Eleanor been born ten years earlier she would have been a major star, but the more simplistic, epics with a moral, family-orientated Hollywood of the 1950s didn’t really know what to do with her.
It’s a shame that she is chiefly remembered now for playing the Baroness in The Sound of Music.
What a gorgeous pair she and Errol would have made….
John Wilkes (1725 to 1797). Born in London to a middle class family, he was a journalist, writer, libertine, poet, adventurer, wit, radical MP, womaniser, duellist, fighter against oppression, and one of the first media celebrities.
Wilkes was also the most successful womaniser we English ever produced (at any rate, he was the most famous). He even managed to pinch Casanova’s favourite mistress, which the Italian moaned about in his memoirs. It must have been very galling as Wilkes wasn’t much to look at, having a crooked jaw and a squint, but as one smitten female put it, ‘he doesn’t squint more than a gentleman should!’
He began life as an adventurer, gaining access to aristocratic society by virtue of his wit and erudition. He soon found a patron in the Earl of Granville, a prominent Whig politician. Granville secured for Wilkes a safe seat and he entered the House of Commons. Wilkes then founded the North Briton, a newspaper which focused its acerbic satire on the incompetent ministry of Lord Bute. Issue No45 caused uproar in its unprecedented attack on the Government and by implication, the King. Wilkes became an instant celebrity in an era that had just embraced newspapers, with shops ‘cashing in’ in the form of figurines, pictures, cockades, pins and even parrots that repeated ’45 & Liberty.’ Wilkes literally caused riots, and people would tear off pieces of his clothes.
Even the Tory Dr Johnson was eventually won over by his charm and intelligence. Interestingly, he was referring to Wilkes when he famously said, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’
Another reason Wilkes became infamous was his Flynning ways. A libertine who had lost his virginity aged 12, he liked to try everything and, in particular, every woman. He was elected a member of a secret society called the Monks of Medmenham, which later became known as the Hell Fire Club.
The men dressed as monks, and prostitutes were hired to dress as nuns. They were ferried by boat, at night, to the grounds of a ruined abbey on the banks of the Thames. Wilkes was known as ‘Brother John of Aylesbury’ and kept the cellar books. The quantities of claret and port consumed were quite extraordinary, even by the standards of the day.
Wilkes loved to play practical jokes. In fact, it was said of him; ‘Jack Wilkes will sacrifice his best friend for a scurvy jest.’ Remind you of anyone? He once dressed an ape as the Devil, hid it in a chest and then unleashed it on an unsuspecting Lord Sandwich, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty.
After a few years, the ‘brotherhood’ disbanded. According to some, the orgies were relocated to the subterranean caves at West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire. West Wycombe, which is one of the first Palladian houses in Britain, belonged to fellow ‘monk,’ Sir Francis Dashwood, who had the grounds laid out to mimic the shape of a woman’s naked body.
Having been in the caves myself, however, I can say that they are cramped, freezing and very damp! Hardly conducive to nights of passion.
West Wycombe House
Wilkes had married young, to an older, wealthier woman. The marriage was not a success and he left, taking their daughter Polly, who was devoted to him and never married. When Wilkes had to escape to the Continent after the Parliament convicted him of ‘obscene libel’, Polly accompanied him.
After a sojourn in Italy, where Wilkes took up with a 15 year old countess who stole all his money, he returned to England, was imprisoned, re-elected to the House of Commons and went on to become Mayor of London and a supporter of American independence. He also established three vital English liberties; freedom of the press to report the proceedings of Parliament, freedom from arrest without charge, and the right to take your seat in Parliament if you have been democratically elected.
Errol would definitely have approved.
Wilkes died aged 72 at his home in Grosvenor Square and is buried in the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, London.
A Compelling Urgency
‘Clung to the side of a hovercraft’: Mike Herr and Sean Flynn at Dong Tam Lagoon, 1968. Photo: Tim Page
— Gentleman Tim