Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Last Western of Errol Flynn

A poster for Rocky Mountain (1950)
While watching the little known Rocky Mountain (1950) recently, I was reminded of a flippant remark made by Bette Davis about Errol Flynn in an interview a long time after his untimely death at age fifty in 1959. Booked, no doubt, on a television talk show where the notoriously blunt movie star was intended to entertain with her sharp insights into the "golden age of Hollywood", Davis held forth on numerous topics about her years on top of the heap. When asked about her reluctance to appear opposite Errol Flynn, she opined with practiced casualness that "He was just beautiful", and "he himself openly said that 'I don't know anything about acting' and I admire his honesty, because he was absolutely right."

Naturally, that studio audience did what was expected and laughed at her superficial, salty comment, apparently agreeing with her dismissal of his talent. This kind of denigrating remark seems to have been made fairly regularly by Flynn during his life and repeated for years after his death to amuse others. Few people seemed to have wondered if Errol Flynn, who may have been far more sensitive than he let on in public, may actually have been a conscientious actor as well as a movie star.

Davis is said to have amended her comment later, perhaps recognizing Flynn's unique contributions to movies and defending her former co-star publicly from some of the more scurrilous rumors spread about him. Perhaps her amended remarks reflected a deeper understanding of her co-star in The Sisters (1938) and the next year's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex , (Davis had wanted Laurence Olivier as her co-star in the latter movie). If evidence were needed to confirm that Errol Flynn, the ultimate romantic swashbuckler on screen for many years was also a thoughtful actor, capable of holding your attention in quieter moments as well as dashing ones, Rocky Mountain may be one of the best arguments for this overlooked quality in his work.


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