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The Adventures of Errol Flynn

In this 86-minute retrospective from Turner Classic Movies (by Emmy-winning documentarians David Heeley and Joan Kramer), narrator Ian Holm chronicles a man who wasn't just one of Hollywood's elemental superstars of the 1930s and '40s. He was also equally famous as a real-life playboy who believed in living life to its fullest, whose rakish roles on the screen barely compared to his real life of (sometimes self-mythologized) zesty adventuring. The Adventures of Errol Flynn begins with a funny 1957 clip from TV's What’s My Line, with Don Knotts and Louie Nye both presenting themselves as Flynn. That slides us into a good, straightforward TV bio with no interpretive pretenses hanging on its bullet points. Generous clips and photos trace his rise to world-class stardom from a Tasmanian childhood marked more by animosity toward his mother than forecasts of achievement. At 18 he trekked to New Guinea, one of the most primitive places on Earth, there spending more than four years as a gold prospector, patrol officer, and tobacco plantation manager. In 1933, age 24, he appeared as Fletcher Christian in Australia's first sound feature, In the Wake of the Bounty. He then went to England to fitfully build an acting career. With few noteworthy credits under his belt, he headed to Hollywood, where his good looks, charisma, and athleticism seemed genetically engineered for success. In short order he became one of Warner Brothers' most recognizable and bankable stars.

Personal reminiscences and warm professional regard come from his widow, Patrice Wymore Flynn; his oldest daughter, Deirdre Flynn; actors Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, and Joanne Woodward; director Richard Sherman; film historians Richard Schickel and Robert Osborne; and others. Archival material brings recollections from actors David Niven and Basil Rathbone, producer Hal B. Wallis, and his second wife Nora Eddington. There's abundant 2004 interview footage with his frequent leading lady, Olivia de Havilland, Flynn's only unconsummated romance. When she discusses her first meeting with Flynn during the casting of 1935's Captain Blood, 88-year-old de Havilland so breathlessly recalls "the handsomest, most charming, most magnetic, most virile young man in the entire world" that we fear she'll swoon into coronary thrombosis on the spot.

For a Hollywood presence like Flynn, you can't centrifuge the biography from the filmography, so we get a summary (a selective one, this being a family-viewing production) of this Tasmanian devil's famously buoyant love and/or sex life, as well as his tempestuous relationships with Jack Warner and twelve-time director Michael Curtiz, and behind-the-scenes accounts of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk, They Died With Their Boots On, and other films, both classic and not-so. Of course the later rumors that Flynn was a Nazi spy are soundly refuted. And when, at the height of his fame, a headline-perfect sex scandal involving teenage fangirls marries the catchphrase "In like Flynn" to statutory rape and debauchery, it's an ordeal that deeply wounds the previously impenetrable Flynn. But the scandal didn't harm his screen career, though his best-remembered films were behind him.

To his busy life he added sidelines as a deep-sea yachtsman, art collector, ferocious drinker, morphine addict, father, husband several times over, and host of TV's Errol Flynn Theatre during his career wane in the 1950s. Flynn's final films reflect a self-image that's part mocking, part somberly reflective. As Burt Reynolds puts it, "he was going to crash and burn" thanks to his kamikaze lifestyle of liquor and drugs, and the documentary tracks his hard decline. But even that didn't slow Flynn's 1959 trip to Cuba to meet, and later become disillusioned by, Fidel Castro. But fortunately, it's his films that we remember him for. As Olivia de Havilland observes, recalling a letter she wrote but never sent to Flynn just before he died in '59 at age 50, he'll always be Robin Hood.

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The Adventures of Errol Flynn premiered on the TCM cable TV network in April 2005. As a DVD, it's packaged exclusively within the Errol Flynn "Signature Collection" boxed set from Warner Home Video. This single disc arrives with the sparkling print (1.33:1 OAR) and DD 2.0 audio that you'd expect from a new TCM production. There are no extras, but then why should there be? Keep-case.
—Mark Bourne

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