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Signature Flynn

17 Apr

The New Yorker
April 18, 2005

IN LIKE FLYNN

No film star ever bettered Errol Flynn in tights, but he was the soul of insouciance even when he wore a cavalry uniform or bluejeans. That’s the revelation of “Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection” (Warner Home Video), which features the athletic, rakish star not just as an inspired Sir Francis Drake take-off in the vivid “The Sea Hawk” (1940) and as an uncharacteristically stiff Earl of Essex in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939) but also as a gallant General George A. Custer in “They Died with Their Boots On” (1941) and as a gritty frontier sheriff in the colorful Western potboiler “Dodge City” (1939). The set includes a surprisingly frank biographical portrait, “The Adventures of Errol Flynn.”

But the key film in the set is the sweeping, ebullient swashbuckler “Captain Blood” (1935). Three years before he became the most dashing Robin Hood yet (in “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” available on a separate Warner DVD), the young Australian actor, in his Hollywood breakthrough, proved his panache at righting wrongs. In this film, based on Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 novel about seventeenth-century pirates of the Caribbean and directed by Michael Curtiz, Flynn is Peter Blood, a peaceful doctor who makes the mistake of treating a rebel during the tumultuous reign of King James II and ends up a slave in Jamaica. The ravishing Olivia de Havilland (Flynn’s frequent co-star) plays the feisty, sympathetic niece of the tyrannical British slave owner; Blood and a barracksful of enslaved rebels (good men all) make their escape by stealing a Spanish ship and becoming buccaneers.

Flynn combined aristocratic dash with rebel flair—in “Captain Blood,” he defies the ruling order with absolute confidence. At one point, de Havilland says, “I believe you’re talking treason.” Flynn replies, “I hope I’m not obscure.” (This exchange has a close echo in “Robin Hood,” when de Havilland exclaims, “You speak treason!” and Flynn responds, “Fluently.”) In his autobiography, “My Wicked, Wicked Ways,” Flynn wrote that “youthful and virile roles” like cowboys and swordsmen “require gusto and genuine interest—such as I had felt at the time I was making ‘Captain Blood’ and ‘Robin Hood.’ ” He’s right: in these movies, his exuberance irradiates the screen.

— Tim

 

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  1. barb

    April 17, 2021 at 8:37 pm

    Tim, since Captain Blood is my favorite Flynn film, I totally agree that it is the key film in that first collection of DVDs. :-) And part of the reason is because of his exuberance. He’s certainly exuberant in Robin Hood and other titles, but for me, there’s something just a big more in Captain Blood. Maybe it’s a bit of innocence due to it being his first leading role, but whatever it is, it always will be my #1.

     
 
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