Senior HTF Member
- Feb 20, 2001
- Livonia, MI USA
- Real Name
- Kenneth McAlinden
Errol Flynn: Signature Collection Volume 2
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)/The Dawn Patrol (1938)/Dive Bomber(1941)/Gentleman Jim (1942)/The Adventures of Don Juan(1948)
|Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Release Date: March 27, 2007
He was a charming and magnetic man, but so tormented. I don't know about what, but tormented.Two years after presenting us with the "Errol Flynn Signature Collection", Warner Brothers Home Video is treating us to a second volume featuring five more titles appearing on DVD for the first time featuring their top action star of the 30s and 40s.
-– Olivia de Havilland on Errol Flynn
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936 - Warner Brothers - 114 minutes)
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Patric Knowles, David Niven, Nigel Bruce, Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson, C. Henry Gordon
I'll begin by saying that as a history lesson on the British military in south and central Asia, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" rates a well-earned "F-minus". As a Hollywood movie coming on the heels of "Captain Blood" to cement the reputation of Errol Flynn as a top-tier action star, it scores considerably higher.
Flynn stars as Geoffrey Vickers, an officer in the British Lancers stationed in India during the mid-19th century. He finds himself in the middle of a politically sensitive situation as Britain has recently cut off aid to Suristan (a fictional country that seems to be somewhere around today's Afghanistan or northern Pakistan), displeasing its leader, Surut Khan (Gordon). Vickers distinguishes himself through various escapades including saving the life of Khan after a hunting accident, driving a huge heard of horses through central Asia across hostile territory, and withstanding a siege of a British encampment. His personal life is complicated by the fact that in his frequent absences, his fiancée, Elsa (de Havilland), has fallen in love with his brother Perry (Knowles), an officer assigned to diplomatic duties. Matters come to a head when Surut Khan commits an unspeakable act and then openly aligns himself with Russia.
The screenplay takes an everything but the kitchen sink approach, presenting us two brothers embroiled in a love triangle, a jungle leopard hunt astride elephants, a life-debt between hero and villain, a massive horse drive, an ambush, a siege, prisoner-slaughter, officers routinely rejecting the intelligent suggestions of their underlings, and, lest we forget, a cavalry charge. While the "too much is not enough" story structure is a bit exhausting, the action set-pieces themselves are expertly staged. Each one tops the previous, culminating in the titular cavalry charge where 600 or so men on horseback race through a valley with artillery fire coming from all sides into a battle against a vastly superior force. The sequence is indeed spectacular, and earned an Academy Award for assistant director/stunt coordinator Jack Sullivan. The massive use of trip wires also reportedly led to the death of scores of horses and one stuntman, and was a contributing factor to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals developing guidelines for animal safety in film productions.
There are a lot of things wrong with this film. Patric Knowles is a bit of a stiff as Flynn's brother, sabotaging the love triangle plot which would have seemed awkwardly shoehorned into the story even if handled well (shades of "Pearl Harbor"). Olivia de Havilland is given little to do, and history would prove her playing a woman more romantically interested in Knowles than Flynn to be a miscalculation. Title cards are used excessively, including a seemingly endless number of them during the film's opening and bits of Tennyson's poem flashing over the screen during the climactic charge. The complete fabrication of the events leading up to the famous charge will certainly alienate the history buffs, but despite the reference to Tennyson in the credits and during the film, the filmmakers do not even remain faithful to the 260 words of his poem. One of the most famous couplets in the poem is "Their's not to reason why,/Their's but to do and die". The film, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to set up a revenge scenario to give them a "reason why".
Despite these and other complaints, the film is compulsively watchable because of the brilliant staging of the action scenes and Flynn's performance - imbuing Vickers with just the right mix of charisma, nobility, and action heroics. Reliable character actors are cast to type, and do what they normally do very well including C. Henry Gordon as the diplomatic but cruel Surut Khan, Donald Crisp as the officious but sympathetic Colonel Campbell, and David Niven as Captain Randall, Vickers' comrade in arms.
On the trivial side, this film has one of my all-time favorite film-flub moments. A man is openly weeping holding the lifeless body of his son in his arms. In the very next shot, the dead boy's toes and feet are shown to be wiggling wildly.
The Dawn Patrol (1938 - Warner Brothers - 103 minutes)
Directed By: Edmund Goulding
Starring: Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, David Niven, Donald Crisp, Barry Fitzgerald
"The Dawn Patrol", a remake of the Howard Hawks film from 1930, tells the story of a British flying squadron in France during World War I. Their commander, Major Brand (Rathbone), is continually frustrated by the shoestring nature of the operation. Equipment that is barely being held together and a lack of experienced pilots contribute to a very high casualty rate. His patience is further taxed by the reckless and mildly insubordinate nature of his two most skilled pilots, Captain Courtney (Flynn) and Lieutenant Scott (Niven). When a particularly reckless action unexpectedly results in promotions for all involved, Courtney finds himself in Brand's job. He develops a new understanding of the frustrations Brand faced with his superiors demanding he keep sending unskilled pilots on what amount to suicide missions while being grounded himself. This leads to friction between former pals Courtney and Scott as the skies become even more dangerous due to the German flying ace, "Von Richter".
While the idea of remaking a film that is only eight years old seems like an inherently bad one, it's a good thing nobody told the makers of the 1938 version of "The Dawn Patrol" that, because they succeed marvelously. Eight years advancement in the art of motion picture sound allows for more sophisticated camera set-ups for the dialog scenes. The impressive aerial photography is every bit as good as the original because ... well ... they used the exact same footage.
The pacifist themes from the original remain intact, with one particularly effective sequence involving a captured German pilot believed to have killed one of the British pilots that is very reminiscent of Renoir's "Grand Illusion".
The cast is wonderful from top to bottom, with Flynn and Niven showing an easy rapport, and Rathbone creating a character who is both adversarial and completely sympathetic. As Rathbone's, and later Flynn's, second in command, Donald Crisp plays a softer variation on his standard stiff-upper lip British officer.
Dive Bomber (1941 - Warner Brothers - 132 minutes)
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy, Alexis Smith, Robert Armstrong
"Dive Bomber" is another aviation drama, this time a contemporary story focusing on US Navy pilots scripted by Frank Wead and Robert Buckner from a story by Wead. Made while Europe was at war, but before the USA entered the fray, it tells the story of Navy doctor Doug Lee (Flynn). He develops an interest in the problem of pilot blackouts during high altitude and rapid descent maneuvers, and signs up for training as a flight surgeon. Along the way, he overcomes the initial disdain of both squadron Commander Joe Blake (MacMurray) who had a tragic history with Lee when he unsuccessfully treated his friend after a plane crash, and Flight Surgeon Commander Lance Rogers (Bellamy), who is put-off by Lee's undisguised enthusiasm and embittered by his own inability to fly for medical reasons. Lee, Blake, and Rogers eventually come together to develop and test a unique flight suit, but as events progress, the medical stress levels on Blake and other pilots lead to complicated, and occasionally tragic developments.
This film will be of great interest to fans of Naval aviation, as it was made with the full cooperation of the US Navy, and features lots of rare color footage of Pre-World War II military aircraft. It just so happens that this was the most "Technicolor-friendly" era of military aviation, as the planes were decorated with bright colorful markings all over their wings which give the formations a certain Busby Berkeley-esque glitz. The film also marked the last collaboration between Flynn and director Michael Curtiz.
As a dramatic construct, the film is less interesting. The basic story leans heavily on melodramatic cliches, and most elements play out fairly predictably. On the other hand, the technical work being done by the doctors and pilots seems more grounded and plausible than in most films of this type, and the ending has a poignancy that is not telegraphed, but makes sense.
An even bigger problem is that the film is bogged down by the dead weight of lame subplots that feel like they were flown in from other movies. The chief offender is a sitcom-ish series of episodes involving Allan Jenkins as an enlisted man who hides in the medical Isolation Ward each payday when his shrewish ex-wife comes looking for him. Equally extraneous is the not-so-romantic subplot involving Alexis Smith as Linda Fisher, a friend from Lee's past who shows up a few times to be frustrated by how uninterested he is in her compared to his work. This was Smith's debut as a contract player for Warner Brothers, and she does as much as she can given the poor material. Fortunately, she would go on to much bigger and better things, including...
Gentleman Jim (1942 - Warner Brothers - 104 minutes)
Directed By: Raoul Walsh
Starring: Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, Jack Carson, Alan Hale, Ward Bond, Arthur Shields
"Gentleman Jim" is a boxing biopic focusing on James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett (Flynn), the product of a working class Irish-American family in late 19th century San Francisco, who revolutionized the "sweet science". Corbett's charm and boxing skill allow him to ingratiate himself with members of the swanky "Olympic Club" enough to be sponsored for an athletic membership. The members eventually grow tired of Corbett's antics and inflated ego, and conspire to take him down a peg via pitting him against a professional boxer. Much to the surprise of his detractors, chief of which is second generation socialite Victoria Ware (Smith), he knocks out the former British champ. Chafed by the club members' attitudes towards him and his friends, Corbett turns professional, and racks up enough wins to earn a shot at the reigning heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan (Bond). Perceived as undersized and completely outmatched, Corbett has trouble finding a backer to put up the $10,000 fee demanded by the fight's promoters until help arrives from an unexpected (unless you have seen a Hollywood movie before) source.
After ending his professional relationship with Michael Curtiz with "Dive Bomber", Flynn went on to make three straight films with director Raoul Walsh, with this being the third and arguably the best. It is hard to think of another actor who could play simultaneous arrogance and charm as effectively as Flynn, and he throws himself into the part with abandon (and without his trademark moustache). In one key scene, the audience is expected to believe that Corbett learns humility through empathy with his defeated opponent, and Flynn completely sells it. He is, in turn, surrounded by a well chosen supporting cast including frequent co-star Alan Hale as his Father, Jack Carson in...well... the Jack Carson role (loyal, good-natured, humorous second banana) and Ward Bond, who seems like he had been waiting his whole career for a chance to play John L. Sullivan. One could argue that Bond overplays him, but the character's bigger than life persona practically demands it. Alexis Smith is perfectly cast as the society lady who is constantly infuriated by Corbett to the point that you know she will fall for him by the last reel.
There is a thick stream of Irish-American "paddywhackery" through the film, with Sullivan and Corbett's family portrayed as loud, brawling alcoholics liable to break out into a fight or a song at any given moment (there's a running gag where whenever a family squabble erupts, they take it to the barn and a helpful neighbor yells out "The Corbetts are at it again!"). The film is so basically good-natured and affectionate to these characters, that the Sons of Erin (or at least the family of McAlindens) are probably inclined to give it a pass. Heck, it even features the actors who ten years later would play both the Catholic Priest (Bond) and the protestant Reverend (Shields) from "The Quiet Man" - the most beloved piece of Hollywood paddywhackery of all time.
On the verisimilitude front, while the film does give a glimpse of how the sport in America advanced from its crude bare-knuckled back-alley origins to a respected and regulated marquee sporting event under the "Marquess of Queensbury Rules" by the turn of the century, it does not really address the ways in which Corbett changed the sport of boxing technically, suggesting it was his polite manner and dapper clothing that set him apart from the pack as much as anything. It also sidesteps the element of racism inherent to the fact that John L. Sullivan would not fight top contender Peter Jackson because he was black, while Corbett fought him to a legendary 61 round draw. The fight is referenced, and Corbett does goad Sullivan about "ducking" Jackson. Those quibbles aside, the film works as a fine entertainment and features one of Flynn's best performances, so what's not to like?
The Adventures of Don Juan (1948 - Warner Brothers - 110 minutes)
Directed By: Vincent Sherman
Starring: Errol Flynn, Viveca Lindfors, Robert Douglas, Alan Hale, Romney Brent, Ann Rutherford, Robert Warwick
In "The Adventures of Don Juan", Errol Flynn plays the legendary title character. After one amorous misadventure too many upsets a strategic marriage between the daughter of an English Duke and a member of the Spanish aristocracy, he is advised by the Spanish ambassador to return to Madrid, face the chastisement of his King and Queen, and reform his ways. While attempting to do just that, he finds himself embroiled in the middle of court intrigue as the villainous and power hungry Duke de Lorca (Douglas) manipulates the weak-minded King Phillip III (Brent) into conflict with England behind the back of the peace-minded Queen Margaret (Lindfors). Events are further complicated when Don Juan finds himself falling for the Queen. Swordfights, stunts, daring rescue attempts, and a castle invasion ensue.
"The Adventures of Don Juan" was Errol Flynn's return to the swashbuckling genre after an eight year hiatus following "The Sea Hawk". The film had a long development period ranging from the early 40s when it was shelved due to the loss of foreign markets during World War II, to 1945 where it was slated to be produced and then pulled from the schedule until it was re-launched under the direction of Vincent Sherman and released near the end of 1948.
Sherman directs with a steady hand, electing to establish a light and frothy tone for the majority of the film, but deftly steering things into a darker, more serious direction before unleashing the wall to wall action of the third act heroics. Flynn acquits himself admirably. The lines on his face and increase in tights size due to the intervening years of hard living actually contribute to the nature of his character, who is established as having a long history of romantic entanglements and narrow escapes.
Alan Hale is on hand once again as the loyal sidekick in what would turn out to be the last of his many film pairings with Flynn. Viveca Lindfors is perfectly cast as the Spanish Queen who is much more adept at negotiating court intrigue than her simple-minded husband, played to humorous effect by Romney Brent. Even gifted comedian Jerry Austin is given more than just the standard "little person" role as the court jester. While his early scenes send up all the warning signs of typical novelty role stereotypes, he eventually becomes a key asset to Don Juan and the Queen in their efforts to thwart de Lorca.
From a technical standpoint, the cinematography, costumes, and production design are all first-rate, with the film earning Oscar nominations for the latter two qualities (including a win for the costumes). Sherman and his editors also skillfully blend shots from 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and 1939s "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" into the film.
The VideoAll of the films in "The Errol Flynn Signature Collection Volume Two" are presented in a full frame 4:3 aspect ratio which is representative of their original theatrical presentations.
"The Charge of the Light Brigade" appears to be a fine transfer of a very rough and inconsistent source element. The black and white film element has a lot of visible damage, with occasional inserts that appear to be from lower generation "dupe" material. There are also occasional pieces that look significantly better than the rest of the material. For some reason, the second unit shots of the leopards from an early section of the film look better than most of the shots of the actors (not counting the rear projection process shots which are understandably less sharp). Digital compression artifacts are not noticeable from a reasonable viewing distance except for some of the grainiest passages. I did not notice any ringing along high contrast edges.
"The Dawn Patrol" is an excellent transfer of a black and white film element that appears to be in very good shape. Contrast is handled well, with deep blacks and bright whites, without any blooming or sacrifices of shadow detail. The second unit material for the aerial sequences recycled from the 1930 original are an obvious step down in quality from the rest of the film, with heavier grain, less detail, and higher contrast. Even the newly-produced second unit shots of planes on the ground and taking off are noticeably of lower quality than the rest of the film. Other than those understandable shortcomings inherent to the film's production and very infrequent light speckling, this transfer could not look much better. Compression is well handled, and edge ringing is not an issue.
"Dive Bomber" looks like an old transfer of a somewhat faded color element. It is encoded as 30 frames per second video, so if you experience aliasing, manually switch your display or playback device to video mode to prevent it. While the aerial photography is still admirably spectacular, the color scheme has an almost 1960s television look to it, partly due to the fading, and partly due to the bland production design of the interiors. Various types of film element damage appear sporadically throughout the program.
"Gentleman Jim" has a fine black and white transfer with solid contrast, consistent densities, and light to medium natural film grain throughout. Compression is rarely an issue. I spied some very light ringing along vertical high contrast edges, but it was not pervasive. Light film element wear and tear shows up from time to time, but is not distracting.
"The Adventures of Don Juan" provides an exceptional rendering of the three-strip Technicolor film. The film element looks to have been in excellent shape with infrequent damage, terrific contrast range, deep blacks, and near-perfect registration. There is light natural film grain throughout, with good compression and little to no ringing along high contrast edges. There seems to be some variation in flesh tones from scene to scene, sometimes veering too far into red or red-orange territory for my taste.
The AudioAll of the films in the "Errol Flynn: Signature Collection Volume Two" come with English mono tracks encoded as Dolby Digital 1.0 at 192 kbps bitrate. No dubs in any other languages are included.
"The Charge of the Light Brigade" has a prominent, persistent background hiss through the whole film, but otherwise has very good fidelity and surprising dynamics for a track of its vintage. Subtitles are available in English only.
"The Dawn Patrol" has considerably less audible hiss than "Charge of the Light Brigade", but also has more of a pinched, over-processed sound to it with rolled-off high frequencies and occasionally unnaturally boomy bass. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
"Dive Bomber" has hiss and light crackle audible during quiet passages. Fortunately, being a Warner Brothers film scored by Max Steiner, there are not that many quiet passages. The track otherwise offers decent fidelity with modest dynamics. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
"Gentleman Jim" has light hiss audible during quiet passages, but otherwise offers pleasing fidelity. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
"The Adventures of Don Juan" has a wider dynamic range than other titles in this collection, but mild noise reduction artifacts are occasionally audible. Otherwise, the track does an excellent job, particularly in showcasing one of my favorite Max Steiner scores which combines a rousing title theme with elements of period English and Spanish music. Subtitles are available in English only.
The Extras"The Charge of the Light Brigade" comes with the film's original theatrical trailer, running two minutes. In addition, it comes with a "Warner Night at the Movies" series of featurettes. These include the trailer for "Anthony Adverse", a newsreel about British troops in Palestine, a 21 minute Technicolor short called "Give Me Liberty" re-enacting Patrick Henry's famous address at St. John's Church with a little domestic drama on the side, a 19 and a half minute comedy short called "Shop Talk" featuring Bob Hope in a department store filled with deliberately incompetent employees, and a seven and a half minute Merrie Melodies cartoon called "Boom Boom" featuring Porky and Beans in a bunch of World War I combat gags.
"The Dawn Patrol" comes with the film's original theatrical trailer running just over three minutes. In addition, it comes with a "Warner Night at the Movies" series of featurettes. These include the trailer for 'Three's a Crowd", a newsreel about daredevil skydivers and pilots in Tampa, a 22 minute musical comedy short called "The Prisoner of Swing" starring Hal Le Roy, Eddie Foy Jr., and June Allyson in a spoof of "The Prisoner of Zenda", an unintentionally hilarious 19 minute Technicolor musical short called "Romance Road" about a Canadian Mountie that sings to a pretty girl while Native American Indians and corrupt railroad men kill each other (the opening titles assure us that "The Mountie is synonymous with justice, human sympathy, and -- Romance...."), and a Looney Tune cartoon called "What Price Porky" which finds farmer Porky caught in the middle of a war between his chickens and a group of ducks who want their corn.
Dive Bomber comes with a seven and a half minute making of featurette called "Dive Bomber - Keep 'Em in the Air" that takes a brief but informative look at how the film was made with comments from TCM host Robert Osborne along with film scholars Rudy Behlmer and Lincoln Hurst, including a funny anecdote about Michael Curtiz trying to yell out direction to planes flying overhead. It also includes the film's Theatrical trailer running just over three minutes and dances on the edge of truth in advertising with a statement promising "Errol Flynn as a sky-climbing hell-diving pilot of the US Navy".
Gentleman Jim comes with the film's just under two minute theatrical trailer as well as an audio-only feature of the 'Lady Esther Screen Guild Radio Show" presentation of "Gentleman Jim", with Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, and Ward Bond reprising their roles from the film. The radio show runs under a half hour and does not have a digital time code or chapter stops. In addition, it comes with a "Warner Night at the Movies" series of featurettes. These include the trailer for "The Male Animal", a newsreel with vintage wartime boxing footage including short clips of Sergeant Joe Louis, a 10 and a half minute Technicolor short called "Shoot Yourself Some Golf" that features Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman interacting with longest drive champion Jimmy Thomson and trick golf champion Jack Redmond, an eight and a half minute sports-themed Technicolor short called "The Right Timing" that includes a snippet from "Shoot Yourself Some Golf" and a car crash scene from "Dive Bomber" in addition to a lot of shots of USC coaches and athletes, and a Merrie Melodies cartoon called "Foney Fables" that uses a book of fables as the inspiration for a series of blackout gags.
"The Adventures of Don Juan" comes with the film's theatrical trailer as well as a full-length, screen-specific audio commentary from Director Vincent Sherman and film historian Rudy Behlmer. It is an excellent and informative commentary, with Behlmer offering scholarly notes on the production history and the careers of just about every actor who appears on screen, and Sherman offering reminiscences on topics ranging from having to adjust camera placement when Flynn's costume exhibited ... um ... let's call it "packaging" issues, to a climactic stunt that he wishes he had photographed in slow motion. In addition, it comes with a "Warner Night at the Movies" series of featurettes. These includes a trailer for "Silver River", a Newsreel about the 1948 Miss America Pageant, some more love for the Great White North with an eighteen minute Technicolor short called "Calgary Stampede" about the annual week-long "Western Stampede" event, an eleven minute Joe McDoakes comedy short called "So You Want to Be on the Radio" where Joe is perplexed by a series of radio contests, and a Merrie Melodies cartoon called "Hare Splitter" where Bugs Bunny locks horns with a big oaf of a rabbit named "Casbah" over the affections of the lovely Daisy.
PackagingThe films are all in hard plastic slimcases inserted into a thin cardboard box. All of the films are on single-sided DVD-9s. The cover and disc artwork for each title is derived from vintage promotional art for the films. The cardboard box cover presents a picture of a tuxedoed Flynn on the front with the artwork from the five disc cases arranged on the back and spine. All of the discs in the box set are also available separately as individual titles in full-sized amaray-style cases.
SummaryWarner has packaged a set of five Errol Flynn movies at an even lower price than their previous set, but with fewer non-archival extras. Four out of the five films receive very good transfers of film elements of varying quality, with "The Adventures of Don Juan" being a particular standout and only "Dive Bomber" being an outright disappointment.