The William Tell trail- Errol Flynn`s swashbuckling swansong

18 Nov

Dear Flynn Fans,

thanks David for welcoming me aboard (schooner or pirate ship that is?).

I`ve been a big fan of Errol since the age of ten when I saw Robin Hood for the first time on TV.

Now 33 years later I dig for bits and pieces in all four corners of the globe concerning his abandoned William Tell- film.

We all agree that it would have been his second coming of Robin Hood and an instant resurrection of his career.

I dub this project: “The greatest film never seen on the silver screen.”

Fortunately one Austrian actress which was part of the cast still lives  in Vienna and granted me an interview.

Mrs. Waltraut Haas remembered well her role of Mary and recalled some of the circumstances of the shooting in Courmayeur.

Most of all she was full of praise of Errol, his humour and gentleman attitude (he liked to flirt, but respected boundaries).

She told me when present, he was the first on the set, knowing well his lines.

She was rented out from German production firm “Herzog Film” for a rehearsing scene and beat out Vira Silenti by choice of Jack Cardiff.

She was friendly with Pat Crawley, wife of  the “whats-his-name- boxer” and had a daily budget of 1000 Lira, which sometimes they used for movie tickets instead of meals.

One night Errol and his entourage went out to a Hillside Casino and meet with Gina Lollobrigida and her Serb husband, which was speaking German well, so they got along well.

When they met again years later at a Biennale in Berlin and greeted each other, la Lollo had forgotten about their brief encounter and asked Mrs. Haas, where from she knew her husband?

“From the Casino!”, replied Mrs. Haas, unaware that casino means also “brothel” in Italian when not pronounced perfectly right.

She confirmed that in her dying scene her dress was torn up by the Habsburgian henchman Jost and her bussom would have shown- the mother of all Nipplegate affairs so to speak.

This might have attracted the interest of King Farouk, which wanted to meet her in Rome.

When she resisted, Mrs. Haas said, that she took some heat from cast and crew (not from Errol!) for shunning the possible sponsor.

Quite interesting was that she mentioned filmmaker Roberto Rosselini being interested in helping out to finish the film some time later on.

By then young Guido Martufi had grown considerably and that in reality this was the final deathblow to the project.

For unpaid hotel bills the Cinemascope lense, which the camera man (Hermann?) had personally vouched for, was taken away.

He promptly suffered a heart attack. I will now search for more information south of the Austrian border, in Italy and will try to contact the other female lead, Mrs. Antonella Lualdi and her husband Franco Interlenghi in Rome.

If I succeed, I plan to write everything into a book called: “The William Tell trail- Errol Flynn`s swashbuckling swansong.”

But you will read it  here first, since you are all good sports!

Bye for now, Heinz

— shangheinz


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  1. Inga

    November 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Yes, that’s it. As I said below, the cameraman was, I think, called Hermann Schopp.
    But I believe that Vira Silenti did play another role? Wasn’t it Sophia Loren who did not get a role?

    • shangheinz

      November 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      Rumour has it, that Sofia Loren didn`t make the cut. She really did an audition, but only later on, when Errol was looking all over Europe for funding. Since he now owned a film production film he instructed Jack Cardiff to look for prospects for future productions. By word of Cardiff Errol wasn´t impressed with Sofia`s material. Urban legend has it, that his prime choice for the female film lead was another Austrain beauty, Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood friend and ex-wife of his filmpartner from Gentleman Jim, John Loder. Isn`t it ironic that at the exact time of the Tell- filming she did a film in Europe, that wasn`t finished either! As far as Vira Silenti is concerned, there was an whole scene with her in the can, which didn`t convince Jack Cardif entirely. The role as I wrote in my blog went to Waltraut Haas and Vira Silenti ended up filming with Fellini.

      • Inga

        November 18, 2012 at 4:03 pm

        Hm… any sources for all that?

        • shangheinz

          November 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm

          Yes Inga, many (open) sources both from biografies (Hedy Lamarr, John Loder) as well as movie magazine interviews with Jack Cardiff. I am naturally drawing my conclusions and may they serve until proven wrong, to at least make other sources appear.

  2. Robzak

    November 19, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Welcome to the blog, Heinz. It’s a cozy place to be and msome of the members are even quite likeable!

    Relating to your topic, I went to Courmayeur in May of 1990 looking for the William Tell village. I had understood that it had been left standing, but after much search I came up empty handed. Oddly, none of the people I asked seemed to be familiar with what I was searching for. It was only years later that I read that the village had finally been taken down in the late 70s. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be in that locale, knowing that Flynn and company had been there almost four decades earlier. I will return soon to add shots of the area to the “Movie Locations-Then & Now” book.


    • shangheinz

      November 19, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Hi Rob the Artist,

      while Italy proves to be a prolific ground in my reseraches into Errol`s past Hollywood period, the region around the film location so far is not.I contacted the Italian Film Museum located at Torino (the region`s capita-l within an hour`s drive) and came up short with infos on the Tell- film. Now all ways lead me to Rome. I`m very much looking foreward to your pictures. Greets Heinz

      • Robzak

        November 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm

        P.S. To be accurate, “The Dark Avenger” two years later was Flynn’s swashbuckling swan song.

        • shangheinz

          November 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm

          Granted the “Dark Avenger” was his last genre film, but he was a mere shadow of his prior antics after the Tell disaster, don`t you think? A film that was meant to teach Jack Warner “how to make movies nowadays”, led to roles he tried to avoid in the first place. If one thinks of the likes of Scaramouche and Ivanhoe at that time, Errol as the swashbuckler of old was gone.

  3. rswilltell

    November 19, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Dear Mr. Heinz;

    Welcome aboard to this great Errol Flynn web site set up and managed by David.

    Your future book sounds absolutely fascinating and I will purchase a copy as soon as it’s available.

    I went to Los Angeles, California to see the 11 minutes of “William Tell” footage at UCLA Film & TV Archives in 1999. I was astounded at what I saw because the footage was breath-taking. By the way the clapboard on the set for the out-takes gave the title of the film as “The Story Of William Tell”. Alas the footage was silent, as the soundtrack is missing.

    Another talented European author wrote an excellent book on the ‘swan song’ film of the great comedy team of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. It was a French-Italian-British co-production shot entirely in France called
    “Atoll K” (1951).

    I certainly wish you the best of luck with your project.

    Ralph Schiller

    • shangheinz

      November 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Dear Mister Ralph,

      you must be well aware that you share the surname with the writer of the original play of “William Tell.” It is great to hear that there must be a reel of the film material still out there, not buried in a vault in a Boston University. Why Roddy McDowell, why!? Do you remember if the footage was in color or black and white? The film`s titel in Italy and Germany defintely was sceduled as “The adventures of William Tell” and I see “The Story of William Tell” merely as a working title. Have you ever tried to contact the UCLA film Archive to see, if there is a copy of the copy of the copy… And thanks for the encouragement, right now the Tell trail is very steep, you know, if only the book was already finished, I`d buy one myself! Hope to hear from you again, Heinz

      • rswilltell

        November 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm


        Thank-you for the kind words. I honestly don’t know if there is a connection with the original author of
        “William Tell” (actually it was a play) Johann Schiller, as there are so many Schillers in Germany.

        The 11 minutes of “William Tell” footage at UCLA Film & TV archives was in color and letterboxed (widescreen). Jack Cardiff’s Pathecolour cinematography was absolutely gorgeous. I noticed the film also had dashes of humor very much like “Robin Hood”.

        You can see the footage at UCLA for yourself but only on the premises. The bulk of the footage is of course locked up at Boston University. You can submit a request online through the UCLA website and they will download the footage on a DVD disk for viewing only in their university film laboratory.

        I know that Roddy McDowall was planning to make a documentary around the “William Tell” footage but when he realized it was entirely silent he discarded the idea. As to why the footage is under lock and key until the year 2100, that was a bequest of his last will and testament. There is speculation which I will not go into here at this website but feel free to contact me privately.

        I was on the trail of a John Dighton screenplay for “The Adventures Of William Tell” and tracked down a copy to Jack Cardiff himself. It was all done with a go-between and Mr. Cardiff had declined to sell a copy of it.

        Another Flynn expert located the attorney who had inherited the files from Errol Flynn’ s attorney. He was selling all sorts of documents from the Flynn files, including a copy of the screenplay for “William Tell” for $1000. Apparently he did not make a copy before he sold the only copy he had.



        • Inga

          November 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

          So this means someone HAS a copy, Ralph?

          • shangheinz

            November 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm

            Inga, somebody has to have!

            • Inga

              November 20, 2012 at 8:41 pm

              Not necessarily, they might all have gone. Like the one of Mrs Haas.

              • shangheinz

                November 20, 2012 at 8:50 pm

                …we`ll always have Courmayeur, Inga!

            • shangheinz

              November 20, 2012 at 8:46 pm

              Thanks Ralph for the link to UCLA. This means that the public and most of all we Flynn fans have a chance to catch a mini glimpse of this masterpiece. I own a 20 mins. poor quality DVD with black and white footage on the Tell film, but it shows little of Errol, mostly location shots and no scenes at all. I suppose it was filmed from a movie screen. All I know is that Jack Cardiff once appeared at a film festival in England and showed stills of the film and shared some anecdotes. This could be the source. The lock up of all the stuff Roddy McDowall gathered (like evidence….) at his life time must be due to the fact, that by his last will his diaries are off limits until 2100. I read somewhere that he was raided once by authorities because he was in possession of film material for which he had no copyrights whatsoever. After that he set the record straight becoming a donor and collector of historic film material as well as an influental figure within the Film Academy – a well respected man and he decided that it should stay that way…al least until 2100. See you along the Tell trail, Heinz

  4. Tina

    November 21, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Hi Heinz;
    Welcome to the fabulous Errol Flynn Blog! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
    Your comments are very remarkable and you must have looked into the makings of William Tell quite a lot to unearth so many interesting details. I wish you luck in Italy to come up with more interesting information. Every little bit helps to put this jigsaw puzzle together. Obviously, all of it we will never know, which is very sad indeed!
    So you are from good old Austria, so am I. What city if I may ask? Ich bin eine Klagenfurterin von anno dazumal, lebe aber in Kanada.
    I look forward to you next post and many more in the future.
    All the best to you!

    • shangheinz

      November 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      Liebe Tina,

      from Klognfurt to Kanada is quite stretch, but a good choice for living if you are used to lush landscapes, lakes and Lei Lei…(Austrian insider joke). I am from Vienna and in the lucky position that Italy borders at Austria and so I set my sight on their side of the Tell story. Since I speak Italian, I now will contact people from the cast and crew and hope to shed light why this film was not to be completed. Other productions there ran into financial troubles, but were overcome. Orson Welles, a good buddy of Errol`s, was originally foreseen for the role of Gessler, but declined before the film started. His Don Quixote film was equally jinxed. You are right we are looking at a puzzle with many pieces missing, but if I can add a few, we may have a look at the heart of the matter and another (short) Errol Flynn highlight some 60 yers later.

      Lei lei, good bye and auf Wiedersehen,

  5. Rachel

    November 24, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Hello Heinz, and welcome to the blog!
    Wow — thank you for sharing all your information on the William Tell film — it’s so fascinating!
    Good luck with the rest of your work and research, and I too would be very interested to read your book “The William Tell Trail” if you ever do publish it. :-)

    • shangheinz

      November 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Dear Rachel, I truely hope I don`t get stuck on the Tell trail. I`ll keep you posted where I`m at. Right now I am gathering information and the photos alone merit publication. All the best, Heinz

  6. David DeWitt

    November 24, 2012 at 1:20 am

    There is more than one member of this blog with experience publishing books if you get to the point that you want to pursue this! I am sure they would all have some great advice for you!

    • shangheinz

      November 24, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Dear David,
      it`s good to know that there is interest and competence to rely on. Thanks a lot, Heinz

  7. Sergio

    March 27, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    @David – in reading this whole post (2012) I am wondering if the book has ever bene published yet? if so, what’s the actual title so I can purchase?…

    Also in concerns to the films placement, isn’t held by the Errol Flynn estate (Rory, etc..) – as mention in another post on EFB, that they do, or something to that nature? With this being said, why would they not release to the public? I have seen it a couple times; once on TCM and other I cant remember, but I have…thanks for your impute on this mater…

    • David DeWitt

      March 28, 2016 at 12:06 am

      Sergio, you’ll have to ask Heinz about the present situation with the book he proposed in 2012. And the Estate doesn’t own the rights to William Tell as far as know. It was never completed and precious few material from it still exists.