Judge Maurice Cobbs has wicked, wicked ways too.
"I had an insatiable desire to run through the world and not be hemmed in by anything…"—Errol Flynn
Although Errol Flynn became a movie legend by thrilling audiences with his high-spirited adventures, roguish charm, and dashing good looks, the fact is that his real-life adventures were as thrilling and breathtaking as those of any of his on-screen alter egos. Given Flynn's colorful exploits, there is plenty of room for exploitation and titillation, but not in this feature: Documentarian David Heeley examines Flynn's life frankly, but never sordidly. The result is a stylish, straightforward, and honest look at one of Tinseltown's most irreplaceable personalities.
The Adventures of Errol Flynn, which was originally broadcast on Turner Classic Movies in April of 2005, explores Errol Flynn's life and legend with a generous helping of interviews, movie clips, and photographs, all tied together with wonderfully rich narration by Ian Holm. Everything is covered, from Flynn's Tasmanian childhood through his adventures in New Guinea as a gold prospector and a tobacco plantation manager, among other things; his explosive turn in 1935's Captain Blood; his many romances—and a few scandals; his frustration at being typecast and his longing for professional respect; finally ending up with his unfortunate addiction to morphine and all-too-early death at age 50. I say all too early, but perhaps that is not entirely accurate—the portrait painted here is of a man who was out of his own time, who perhaps could have led a happier life had he been born some three or four hundred years ago but was consigned instead to a rather crude and increasingly colorless world. It was a world that abused him as much as it adored him, from Flynn's national humiliation during the notorious statutory rape trial that made the expression "in like Flynn" a dirty joke, to the spurious rumors of his having been a Nazi spy.
Heely, who has previously given us documentaries on a wide range of classic Hollywood stars like Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, and Fred Astaire, gathers a wide variety of interviewees in both new and archival footage to discuss Flynn's life and legacy, from the man himself to family members like his widow, Patrice Wymore Flynn, and daughter Deidre (from his second marriage to Nora Eddington), to close friends like David Niven, to self-professed Errol Flynn fans like Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds. These aren't the usual fawning, empty talking heads that these sorts of features usually deliver—these are frank and often funny reminisces, bittersweet memories, and honest analysis of Flynn's mystique. The most magnetic storyteller here is frequent Flynn costar Olivia de Havilland, whose warmth and affection for Flynn sparkle through. Her breathless recounting of her first meeting with "the handsomest, most charming, most magnetic, most virile young man in the entire world" is as delightful as the slyly told story about the effect she deliberately caused on Flynn's tights is unexpected and laugh-out-loud funny.
The result is that Errol Flynn the star is brought back down to earth for examination, but without destroying the luster that makes him so attractive. There's no need to prove that Flynn was a star—and this documentary doesn't try. What makes this feature so enjoyable is the fact that it is so comfortable basking in the radiance of that star, without being so dazzled as to overlook the more unfortunate aspects of his nature. It's a fine line to walk, and Heely seems to have balanced himself quite nicely, taking all the success, adventure, humor, tragedy, scandal, and achievements of this remarkable man in stride.
This insightful 86-minute feature was included as a bonus in the Errol Flynn boxed set, a package already brimming over with special-features goodness; this wonderful and in-depth biography just goes to prove once again that them brothers Warner cannot be generous enough with the good stuff. I hope that the other studios are paying attention…
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