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7/10
Northern Pursuit to the 49th Parallel
27 May 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Errol Flynn, after his comic turn in "Thank Your Lucky Stars", was back to fighting the bad guys, this time in northern Canada. "Northern Pursuit" is often compared to the 1941 British film "49th Parallel" so I decided to watch both and compare them.

The two films are superficially similar: they are both about a small group of Nazis moving, (with startling ease), across the vastness of Canada and trying to escape the authorities. In the earlier film, they have already wreaked destruction and just want to escape. In the latter, they are planning to wreck things and are foiled. The 1941 film was filmed on location in various spots around Canada. The 1943 film is studio bound, except for shot clearly done by a stunt unit at Sun Valley. A very large difference is that the 1941 film focuses on the Nazis and shows them to be of different types, including one who decides he'd rather stay at a religious commune and resume his former profession as a baker. Another is more interested in making machines work than in politics and doesn't think much of his commander. The three most fanatical of the original 6 fugitives make it the farthest. This was a controversial thing at the time: Nazis were supposed to be shown as hate-filled bad guys only and the 1943 film follows that command, although both films show dedicated Nazis as bullies and murderers in uniform.

The 1943 film focuses on the efforts of the Canadian authorities, especially a Mountie played by Flynn who goes undercover, to foil their plans and bring them to justice. In the earlier film, the good guys are in the background. In for foreground are the good people of Canada, a French Canadian trapper (Lawrence Oliver), an innocent young Hutterite woman - she's just turned 16, (Glynis Johns), an author (Leslie Howard) and a farmer who is AWOL from the Army but still a patriot, (Raymond Massey). The film is really about the interactions between these people and the Nazis and the varied reactions of the fugitives to them. The Flynn film suggests that there were pockets of active Nazi supporters among the German population of Canada. The are absent from the first film. The 1943 film is about Flynn's battles against the bad guys, which, in the end, seem to anticipate the James Bond films. (It's interesting to imagine Flynn as 007: Ian Fleming said he had David Niven in mind. He wound up with the rough-edged Sean Connery. The on-screen Flynn seems to have too much charm and be too gentlemanly with the ladies for the role but if the films were made in the 40's, I'll bet he would have gotten the role.)

Both films have an airplane crash: one that kills a couple of the Nazis in the 1941 film and a shoot-out between Flynn and the remaining bad guys, including their sneering leader, Helmut Dantine, as the plane is crashing that reminded me a bit of the end of Goldfinger. The plot of the 1943 film stretches credulity: the Nazis have smuggled in the parts to assemble a bomber in western Canada before the war and have now sent in a crew to find it, build it and then fly across Canada, to bomb the St. Lawrence canals, (this was before the modern seaway). The Nazis of the 49th Parallel are part of a U-Boat crew that has already sunk several ships in the St. Lawrence, made their way to Hudson's Bay, (around Newfoundland and Quebec), where their boat got sunk and they are the survivors, who are left stranded, presumably on the west side of the bay. They somehow make their way to Winnipeg and then walk to British Columbia, where they hope to get a boat to Japan. The last survivor, their leader, played by Eric Portman, is last seen unconscious in the wilderness around Banff, then in an airplane and finally in the boxcar of a train in Ontario. It begs credibility.

Flynn gives a smooth, under-stated but effective performance as a Mountie of German desent who is loyal to Canada but pretends not to be in order to infiltrate the fifth columnists, which include Gene Lockhart as a dedicated but foolish spy, and discern and stop Dantine's plans. The highlight of the film is Dantine's entrance, which involves a German sub surfacing through a symbolic layer of ice, Dantine's team disembarking, getting transportation from a local Indian tribe and then being caught in a landslide that leave Dantine alone and unconscious, freezing to death until Flynn and a fellow Mountie, played by John Ridgley, (Eddie Mars in "The Big Sleep"), find him. Flynn's early friendliness and deadly showdown in the finale with Dantine bring to mind his relationship with Surat Khan in "The Charge of the Light Brigade", as does the fact that Errol saves the bad guy at the beginning of the film and kills him at the end. Flynn's character has some heartbreak in that he's got to separate himself from his fiancé, (played adequately by the forgotten Julie Bishop), and friends by pretending to turn traitor. The film ends with a cheesy reference to Flynn's rape trial when he pledges love and loyalty to Bishop and then, hugging her, turns to the camera and says "What am I saying?" It must have been painful to play such scenes.

Both are reasonably entertaining films from the war years that emphasize the threat of the Nazis and the inadequacy of apathy and complacency in the face of that threat. "49th Parallel" is the better drama, "Northern Pursuit" the more exciting film. My cursory research into Canada during the war didn't reveal any problems with German immigrants supporting Hitler or native peoples, (as in "North Pursuit"), thinking they could be better off under the Germans. They do avoid any reference to opposition to the war in Quebec, where there was some loyalty to Vichy France. There was U-boat activity in the St. Lawrence but it seems to have mostly been in the period 1942-44, not 1940, when "49th Parallel was made.
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6/10
They don't make them like that anymore
26 May 2021
"They don't make them like that anymore". That's surely true of the all-star variety movie, which were common in the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the studios had a long list of name actors under contract and from time to time put them all into a single musical movie, regardless of whether they could actually dance or sing, drawn together with a plot as thin as tissue paper. Most of the numbers here are part of a show they put on for war charities called the "Cavalcade of Stars", and that's basically what this movie is.

Errol Flynn is in this movie but it's hardly an Errol Flynn movie. If the film has a star, it's Eddie Cantor, then wildly popular but now largely forgotten, whose trademark was a bug-eyed look that suggest shock or fear. He gets a dual role as himself, trying to direct the show and a look-alike running a "Homes of the Stars" tour who is sick of being mistaken for him. Add in Dennis Morgan as an aspiring singer and Joan Leslie as an aspiring song writer and a plot to displace the real Cantor with the look-alike to get them into the show and you've got all the story you need for something like this.

Warner's at this time wasn't doing many musicals so they didn't have the roster of musical stars MGM had. That means this is a parade of actors who can't sing or dance dancing and singing. That doesn't mean it isn't amusing. Flynn's turn as a jolly braggart in a bar describing his phony war heroics, (which ends with him being tossed out a window), is fun, although the irony that Flynn had been rejected for military service due to various ailments was not lost on audiences. His other appearance comes at the very end where he lip-syncs to an operatic voice. He then talks in his own voice, saying that that was quite a singing voice. "I wish it was mine". The highlight is surely Bette Davis singing "They're either too young or too old", a combination of acting, signing and a jitterbug where she gets flipped around by her partner, who had won a dance contest but had to be convinced by Davis to "ignore who I am and just go with your instincts", which resulted in a knee injury. She may have bene too old or her partner too young. Alan Hale does a vaudeville number with Jack Carson and Olivia de Havilland joins Ida Lupino and, of all people, George Tobias in a number awkwardly spoofing the Andrews Sisters, (making this her final film with Flynn, not They Died With Their Boots On - Hale would have one more but 6 years later). Dinah Shore and Ann Sheridan look fantastic and sing well in a couple of numbers and Alexis Smith does the same in a dance. There a production number with black soldiers that may have been edited out in the south. John Garfield does a song and Humphrey Bogart, with a three-day beard, lets S. Z. "Cuddles" Sakall intimidate him, then wonders if his fans will see this.

All of their fans would see this and they could care less what we think about it today.
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8/10
Cancel Culture
11 May 2021
Warning: Spoilers
I watched Waterloo Bridge in its entirety tonight for the first time. There are things I like very much about it and other things I don't care for. The ledger comes out with a profit in watching it but I can't forget either side of it.

I love the sweet sentimentality of the film: how many films today have that quality? The score might seem cloying to some. Every sentimental song composed before 1940 seems to be in it with "Auld Ang Syne" the dominant theme, but it works to create the proper mood and the scene where they dance to that song without further dialog is perfection. I love the performances of the gorgeous leads: Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh, here playing a far more likeable character than Scarlett O'Hara. Taylor later morphed into a leathery tough guy. His early performances as Armand in Camille and this film are a revelation. I particularly like that Taylor's parents, (actually C. Aubrey Smith is his uncle), are sympathetic and understanding characters: they are not the cliche snobbish villains. That's left to minor characters. The only 'heavy' in the film aside from the unseen Germans is Maria Ouspenskaya as a demanding, unsympathetic ballet teacher/director who from what I've heard is a pretty realistic character.

I've recently read an Audrey Hepburn biography and she seems to have been living under somewhat similar circumstances as Myra, with one large exception, a decade later. She would have been excellent in a remake but not better than Vivien here. In fact the similar Leslie Caron did do a remake of this film called Gaby in 1956.

The things I don't like about the 1940 film are: -the fact that Taylor is supposed to be a Scots aristocrat but affects no accent, (I assume it was because he wasn't good at that sort of thing), while the other characters all have authentic accents. Leigh was able to do a southern accent for both of her Oscar winning performances. Maybe that's Taylor never got one. Taylor enacts the part well but he's obviously and American, (they could have made him the son of rich Canadians resident in Britain). Leigh wanted her soon-to-be husband, Laurence Oliver, to play the part. He would have lacked Taylor's charm but would have sounded right.

  • Hollywood was big on tragic coincidences, (see Love Affair/An Affair to Remember) and this story is chock full of them as events conspire to keep the lovers apart. It's kind of hard to swallow, although war is full of roadblocks to happiness.


  • The film makes it abundantly clear that Myrna is turning tricks to pay the bills but the production code insisted that the word "prostitute" never be said. So Instead we get some dreadful dialog: "That thought which is now in your mind that you are telling yourself cannot be true is true!" and "She'd never go back to the.....You don't have to say i. I understand." Ugh.


  • This is one of what must be a hundred films from the depression era in which lovers of different social and economic classes find their relationship to be 'impossible' and one of them, (usually the woman) has to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the reputation of her beloved. I have the very modern attitude that if you've found your soul mate, let the world be damned. But it was a different world back then, when too many things other than love mattered. The fact that Taylor's mother and uncle are so obviously tolerant makes Leigh's decision to allow everything to be ruined hard to take.


  • The ending, which is not in the book, the original 1931 movie of the same title or in Gaby is an obvious rip-off of Anna Karenina, which Leigh would play 8 years later. Viv needs to pay better attention to on-coming traffic. In the original Myra dies as the result of a bomb explosion and in Gaby her lover, (John Kerr), saves her from the bomb and tells her "Let's forget the terrible things this war made us do."


  • That's my favorite ending. If a woman falls on hard times and has to do something desperate to survive, she shouldn't be treated as a pariah by people who have never faced desperation. If the right guy comes along, she should have the right to pursue happiness. Watching this film, I became angry that Myra didn't. 'Cancel culture' is nothing new.
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Naked City: New York to L.A. (1961)
Season 2, Episode 23
8/10
Poor Lt. Busti
6 May 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Ed Asner plays police Lt. Vincent Busti in two episodes, "A Hole In the City", (2/1/61) and "New York to LA" (4/19/61) and in both episodes Lt. Busti gets shot. He survives in the second episode but appears to have been killed in the first one. I wonder if they were not shown in the order filmed and the earlier episode was supposed to be Busti's demise. If so, it's a sad thing because the latter episode stresses that he's got a wife and a young son at home and it's important that he recover and get home to them.

There's no confusion of character names: I just watched both episodes and Asner's character is called Lt. Vincent Busti in both. In the earlier episode he meets Flint, Arcaro and Parker and they don't know each other. In the latter episode, they do but there is no mention of the earlier incident. When Asner is shot in that episode, Olga Bellin cradles his head and shouts at Robert DuVal, "Wherever you go, Lewis, whatever you touch, you make death!" Lt. Busti is not seen again in that episode, so it's an easy assumption that he's a goner.

Herb Leonard and Sterling Silliphant were early boosters of Ed Asner's career. He appeared no less than 5 times on their other show, "Route 66". In his last two appearances there, "Shoulder the Sky, My Lad " (3/2/62) and "Welcome to the Wedding" (11/8/62), he is also killed, first by a knife in a mugging and then by a fugitive who escapes his custody, the same scenario as here. When Asner's character is shot or stabbed, he makes a point of emphasizing how awful it is to experience that, letting out screams of pain and gasping or even gurgling for his last breath. I detect a conscious effort by this socially conscious actor to tell the audience that these events are dreadful things: these characters are being physically invaded. They aren't just having heart attacks.
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10/10
Flynn on the edge of darkness
6 May 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Flynn once again takes on the nasty Nazis in a film that couldn't be more different than the comparatively light-hearted romp of 1942's "Desperate Journey". This film has as bleak an opening as any film from Hollywood's Golden Age has ever had, (it's been compared to 'Beau Geste' which was more mysterious than horrific). This film is a dead serious tribute to the citizens of Norway and other conquered countries in their underground opposition to their oppressors.

We open with a German observation plane noticing that the Nazi flag has been replaced by the Norwegian flag in a fishing village. They dispatch a German boat to investigate and a small detachment of troops is shocked to find the place strewn with bodies of both the town's citizens and the German soldiers they fought. The only living person seems to be the owner of the town canary, who seems to have lost his mind. They decide he is useless in his current state and shoot him. They find the German commandant, (Helmut Dantine, in a typical role), has shot himself. The movie then flashes back to a time before the battle where Dantine is bragging to a Gestapo officer about how he and his men can control the local populace. We find out the canary owner is a collaborator, just interested in his own well-being. The local clergyman, (Richard Fraser) is against violence and doesn't want to do anything that would create it. The local doctor, (Walter Huston), and his wife, (Ruth Gordon) like to pretend that things aren't so bad and will someday go back to being the way they were. His son, (John Beal), is a weak, naïve university student who has been used as an informer by the Nazis. His sister, (Ann Sheridan), has all the qualities he lacks and is a leader in the resistance. Flynn is a fisherman and resistance leader planning to leave because the citizens of the two aren't ready to for a revolt. Judith Anderson is the owner of a hotel the Nazis are using for their headquarters. Morris Carnovsky is a retired university professor whose books can't tell him what to do. Roman Bohnen is an old man who sees Norway as a land of 'giants' brought down low by the invaders. Art Smith, who himself would become the victim of a different type of repression, (the blacklist), plays a committed but pessimistic member of the underground. As another reviewer has pointed out, what is miss are the usual member s of the Warner's stock company. No Alan Hale, no Frank McHugh, no Alan Jenkins, no "Cuddles" Sakall, no one who's presence would brighten the affair or provide any humor in any way. This picture was serious business!

It's full of memorable dramatic scenes, beginning with the aftermath of the battle. There's a meeting of the town's citizens in the church, (which becomes a church service when the Nazis march by). The possibility of being given arms by the British has arisen. That happened to another town that got wiped out in the subsequent battle. Each person is allowed to speak their peace on the subject of resistance and the wide variance of points of view is fully represented. I can't recall such a scene in Golden Age movies other than this one. Crowds are usually uniformly for something or against it, (or easily won over by a stirring speech). This scene illustrates that the decision to resist is a difficult and complex one. Then there is the professor, confronting the Nazi commandant on their demand for possession of his house. Powerless to resist, he does so anyway, asserting his moral superiority while the Nazi berates him and tells him, (and the audience), that no one can stand up to the new Reich. He winds up beating the old man up and has his men take his beloved books and tear them apart in the town square. The citizens pick up the papers in silent protest.

Things come to a head when Sheridan is raped, (this is implied but strongly), and Huston takes his anger out on a German soldier, causing all the leads to be condemned to a firing squad - after they dig their own graves. This is interrupted first by the preacher, who had put aside his pacifism to grab a machine gun and lay the firing squad low from the belfry of his church, and then by the citizens who advance on the Germans in formation with their newly acquired guns. Even Beal's weakling character turns heroic at the end. Unlike most Hollywood battles that are one-sided with the good guys winning or dying gloriously, in this one the two sides virtually exterminate each other, (reminiscent of the nihilistic ending of Huston's cops vs. Gangster's film of a decade before, "The Beast of the City"), thus creating the scene the Nazis encounter at the beginning.

Flynn is part of the ensemble here and underplays his role, (which was originally supposed to be played by a very different actor, Humphrey Bogart), appropriately. The more dramatic the situation is, the less 'acting' you have to do. Sheridan shines in a departure from her normal glamour girl roles and makes an equal partner for Flynn. She's not his 'girl'. Huston is outstanding, as always, as is Carnofsky. Also memorable is Nancy Coleman, who was part of the resistance in "Desperate Journey" but here is the commandant's Polish 'girlfriend' who wants out and gets shot by him during the final battle. She was a very attractive and talented actress who stardom unfortunately eluded.

This was part of a package of Warner Brothers movies a local TV station ran in the afternoon when I was a kid. We always loved our Errol Flynn movies but this one was a dark and depressing one and not our favorite. As an adult, I am much more impressed with it and see it as a change in Flynn's career toward more serious roles, along with the upcoming "Uncertain Glory", in films more appropriate to the mood of things in the 1940's. "Edge of Darkness" was directed by Lewis Milestone, who had previously done that classic of world cinema, "All Quiet on the Western Front" and the script was written by Robert Rossen, who later directed "the Hustler" so you know this wasn't going to be anything lightweight. They do allow Flynn, Sheridan, Huston and a handful of citizens to get away at the end, assuring war-time audiences that the resistance will continue.

One thing I've learned in reading IMDB reviews is that there is nothing so bad that there wasn't somebody who thought it was great nor is there something so good that that there is no one who didn't like it. This film, like all the others has a few detractors. One of them said at the end of his review: "I'm surprised by all the favorable reviews on this site; perhaps they're all from people who saw the movie when it first came out and have never forgotten the effect it had on them." That's the definition of a great film.
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Gentleman Jim (1942)
10/10
The End of the 'Pinnacle'
23 April 2021
This was Errol Flynn's own favorite of his films and it's defiantly one of mine, too. He's perfectly cast as "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, in some ways the Muhammed Ali of his day. Boxing has repeated this scenario often: A powerful puncher is regarded at invincible: too awesome to lose. A great boxer comes along and avoid the champ's power and uses his defense to set up his offense, tired out the champ and wins the title. (see Jack Johnson vs. James Jeffries, Gene Tunney vs. Jack Dempsey and Ali vs. Sonny Liston and George Foreman. The power doesn't know what to do when he can't his big punch against his clever opponent - or what to do when he finds himself under attack instead of seeing his opponent cower from his power.

Corbett was also a flamboyant showman and self-promoter with the good looks and charm to attract the ladies. He was precisely the same size as Flynn, who was well-schooled in how to imitate Corbett's moves. Reliable character actor Ward Bond gets the role of his life as the brawny braggart, John L. Sullivan, who finally gets beaten after many years, then almost melts the celluloid with his sentimental appearance at Corbett's victory party. As a child watching this, (this was one of several classic Flynn films that a local station had in it's library), I was particularly moved by this scene and by the normally unsubtle Bond's tender performance. It taught me that rivals are not necessarily bad guys. That reversal left a tremendous impression on my young mind.

It's a Flynn adventure film with no bad guys and no deaths but plenty of fun and some great drama at the end. There are the usual problems with historical accuracy, (the tender scene with Sullivan never took place; Corbett was married to an actress throughout this period: Alexis Smith's character is an invention), but they seem minor and the film would not have been improved by adhering to reality. (I always say that Hollywood doesn't lie: it tries to improve on reality.) The Irish humor with Flynn's family led by the ubiquitous Alan Hale is amusing but not over-bearing. (This would be his last pairing with Flynn until The Adventures of Don Juan seven years later.) The romantic sparing with the delicious Alexis Smith is a lot of fun, too. I can't put this film quite on a level with The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk or They Died With Their Boots On but you can see why Flynn liked it and I suspect you will, too.

"The Films of Errol Flynn" by Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer and Clifford McCarthy has four chapters: "The Evolution of a Cavalier", "The Pinnacle Era", "The Slow Deflation" and "The Last Seven Years". This is the last film they cover in the "The Pinnacle Era". Several things were happening at this time that would contribute to "The Slow Deflation". Flynn collapsed on the set with what turned out to be a mild heart attack. This plus the fact that he'd had malaria kept him out of military service during the war. The war itself changed audience's tastes. They could no longer see conflict as an 'adventure'. Flynn's subsequent films took a noticeably darker turn. This was the time of his trial for rape: he was acquitted but it soiled his heroic reputation. His own lifestyle, which included substance abuse, would take a toll on his looks, his finances and his reliability. His own attitude that he wanted to be respected as a 'serious' actor in films a lot less entertaining that the ones he made his reputation on would become a factor, as well.

There were still some good films to come. But most of the great ones were already in the can.
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8/10
Not so desperate but a lot of fun
14 April 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Errol Flynn joins the war effort here, (remember "Dive Bomber' was before Pearl Harbor), in a 'fun' adventure story of a bomber crew downed in Germany who hides and fights their way across occupied Europe, the survivors, (half of them), eventually get back to England by stealing a British bomber the Germans had captured and were going to use to bomb the waterworks that supplies London. While there are some serious moments, much of their journey is a lark, full of wise-cracks and easy victories over German guards and pursuers. I half expected our heroes to use the Hope-Crosby patty-cake routine to disarm the bad guys when they got the drop on them.

If you want to take the film apart, you can. But if you don't, you'll have a good time as war-time audiences surely did. The bomber crew is intentionally an unlikely group: Flynn finally gets to play an Australian. Ronald Reagan plays a typical American, (complete with a wonderful double-talk routine), Alan Hale a British veteran of the first war and Arthur Kennedy a Canadian, thus uniting in one crew the four major English-speaking nations that were fighting the Germans. The RAF and the USAF, of course, had their own bombers and crews and their own ideas about how to use them. It's doubtful that there was ever a bomber crew combining these nationalities. But it's a tribute to all of them.

The cast is quite a crew themselves. Flynn at this time was frustrated that his medical history, (he'd had malaria and was soon found to have a mild heart problem as well), kept him out of the action and forced him to 'fight' the war in films like this. He'd volunteered to be a civilian guide around his old haunts in New Guinea but was turned down for that, too. And the phony rape allegations against him came out just before this film came out, so this was a test of his continuing popularity, which he passed as this became one of the top box-office films of the year. Ronald Reagan had had his breakthrough role in 'Kings Row' just before this and was more co-star than second lead here, after playing General Custer to Flynn's Jeb Stuart in 'Santa Fe Trail' two years before. Unfortunately, he was shortly inducted into the military service, killing the momentum his career had finally found and he never became a big star, just a name until he entered politics. Arthur Kennedy had just played a bad guy who dies next to Flynn's version of Custer in 'They Died With Their Boots on'. Alan Hale Sr. Was the 10th of the 13 Flynn films he would appear in and gets to die heroically in a battle with the Germans. Raymond Massey, after playing the fanatical John Brown in 'Santa Fe Trail', plays a fanatical, monocled German officer who takes personal charge of capturing Flynn's crew.

The film certainly acknowledges the danger the heroes were in: three of their crew die. Nancy Coleman plays a nurse who helps them and whose fate is uncertain as she walks away from them at the end. But it's mostly about the guys repeatedly triumphing over the rather inept bad guys, (whose security arrangements seem particularly sparse). But 1942 audiences enjoyed seeing the Nazis look bad: see also the Humphrey Bogart vehicle, "All Through the Night" from the same year, with gangsters battling fifth columnists in New York. I don't recall a similar film involving the Japanese, whom we apparently didn't regard as funny. This film is certainly entertaining. Some of a later generation have compared it to 'Hogan's Heroes' for its combination of Nazi's, comedy and adventure. I would also compare it to 'I Spy' for the casual banter of the heroes under pressure.

You can take it apart if you want. But you might find it's more fun to accept it for what it is and just enjoy it.
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9/10
More 'Woke' Than You Think
3 April 2021
The Adventures of Robin Hood is Errol Flynn's justly most famous film. The Sea Hawk is, in my judgment, his greatest film. But when I was a kid and all my friends would gather at my house to watch one of the Errol Flynn films a local station had in their syndication package, there was unanimous agreement that They Died With Their Boots on was THE incomparable Errol Flynn film. The great set-piece of the final battle with our hero standing defiantly alone, the last of his command still alive, out of bullets but holding his sword toward the enemy, was over-whelming to us. After the show was over, we would repair to the backyard and refight the battle, arguing about who would be Custer and who would be Crazy Horse.

Looking at it as an adult who has read some history, I can see that there is a lot to object to in this movie. But I still think it is a great film. It is wonderfully entertaining and there's even some 'woke' moments in it, to use a modern term for being politically and morally aware, that seem to me to be even more important than the historical inaccuracies.

General Custer has been an inflatable - and deflatable hero to Americans over the years. After his death he was a national hero/martyr who had "died with his boots on". Paintings of his brave "last stand" were an art form in the late 19th century which graced many a saloon. He was still considered a hero at the time of this film and we needed them in 1941. Over the years sympathy for the Indians grew and they are shown as the courageous victims of corrupt white men, (as they often were by Hollywood and then television neither of which viewed the only good Indian as being a dead one). Custer in this film is not among them. He's shown as being entirely too full of himself in the comic scenes early in the film but he shows the courage to back up his opinion of himself in battle and proves to be a man of great integrity as well as courage. This puts him at odds with the corrupt men who, ironically, had insisted that he follow the rules at West Point and during the Civil War but who, now in civilian life, were out to make money by getting a monopoly on trading posts, (this part of the film is authentic: the writers pick what they need out of reality and make up the rest - it's not a documentary). There's a great scene just before the 7th Cavalry leave for their final battle in which Custer and Arthur Kennedy as 'Ned Sharp' have an unfriendly drink. Sharp tells him that pursuing glory as Custer has is foolish compared to Sharp's pursuit of money. Custer tells him that glory has one thing over money - you can take it with you. He might also have been talking about integrity.

The real theme of this film is not the quest for glory. It's about how corrupt businessmen and politicians get our country and thus our military into situations where they have to fight costly wars, where the soldiers and the aboriginal peoples we wind up fighting pay the price and the corrupt ones count the money. That's a very modern, very 'woke' theme for a 1941 film. It makes up for the fact that the unseemly aspects of Custer's character and career are largely absent for them film. Those aspects are more than adequately covered in his many cinematic and video appearances since the war. One purpose of our fictional heroes, (and this Custer is more fictional than real), is to advertise the qualities we admire while the villains advertise the qualities for which we have contempt. The hero and villains of this film do that admirably.

Kennedy is playing virtually the same character Van Heflin plays in the previous year's Santa Fe Trail. There's an impressive scene early in this film, when the officers and cadets at West Point loyal to the south are allowed to leave in good order and with respect to join the Confederacy that reminded me of the fortune teller scene in that film where the young officers are told that will one day be fighting each other. The fact that the most apparently disciplined characters in the beginning of the film are the most corrupt at the end of it is interesting: they use rules to suppress others but lack any moral compass. Is that meant to suggest the Nazis? I'm still trying to figure out what the constant references to onions means.

Hattie McDaniel makes an appearance here, playing the same maid-with-a-mind-of-her-own character she does in so many films but never better than here. Stanley Ridges plays the officious but corrupt Major Romulus Taipe, (Red Tape?), to the holt. John Litel is a more principled and understanding version of the same character. Both are excellent with wonderfully sharp theatrically trained voices.

The film is justly famous for the final scene between Flynn and Olivia De Havilland after 8 films together. This is the only film that depicted them after their marriage as a husband and wife. They both know that Custer is going to his death but don't dare mention it. The actors also both knew that, since she no longer wanted to play the girl or the wife in his films, this would likely be their last scene together. Knowing that gives this scene an emotional impact beyond that of any other scene in the cinema. When Custer says, for the third time in the film "Walking through life with you, ma'am, has been a very gracious thing", there isn't a dry eye in the house. Any house.
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6/10
Flynn, on vacation
13 March 2021
Warning: Spoilers
From time to time Errol Flynn would demand and be given a break from the earnest heroism and physical labor of his adventure films and be given a role in a modern, (meaning 1941 here), comedy. The Perfect Specimen (1937), Four's a Crowd (1938) and this film are all perfectly watchable but minor and derivative comedies that showed that Flynn could play the sorts of roles they demanded but without making the sort of impression that William Powell or Cary Grant would make in the films they were fashioned after. If Flynn had tried to make a career of these films, we would not have heard of him today.

Here he's an investment counselor, (a rather dull profession), who writes mystery novels on the side and decides to try and solve one when one of his clients is killed. He deceives his wife, (Brenda Marshall, who had just co-starred with Flynn in The Sea Hawk), and mother-in-law with whom he lives by using a pseudonym because his novels tend to mock their social class. He carries on a cat-and-mouse relationship with his friends on the police force who don't think much of his novels or his amateur sleuthing, especially when they come to suspect him of being the murderer. He has to clear himself and find the real murderer while keeping his activities secret from the two women at home, who being to suspect him of having an affair because of his secrecy and then of being the murderer when they learn about it. He comes to suspect his wife of murder when a second victim is revealed because this one was an attractive blonde in cahoots with the real murderer and she thought this might be her rival for Flynn's affections.

About 80% of the film is about the comic situations that arise out of this and the rest serious reactions to the fact that people are being killed, which makes the film seem too lightweight. With The Thin Man films, which this one obviously wants to emulate, the humor intervened occasionally on the drama, a better mix for the subject matter.

As with so many films from this era of filmmaking, the character actors do as much to carry the show as the stars. Alan Hale, who is in 13 of Flynn's films, plays the police inspector who is no fool but who isn't looking for trouble where it doesn't appear to be. William Frawley, (a decade before he became Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy), provides the dumb cop needed to make the hero appear smart. Allen Jenkins is Flynn's faithful sidekick, as he was to so many stars in so many films. Lee Patrick, who this same year played Humphrey Bogart's faithful secretary in The Maltese Falcon, is the ill-fated blonde. Ralph Bellamy is a dentist who might not be the nice guy he seems to be. Lucille Watson plays Brenda Marshall's haughty and suspicious mother.

A movie goer looking for a couple hours entertainment in 1941 wouldn't be contemptuous of this but he would probably hope that next week's feature would be better. Today we just see it as Flynn keeping busy between the films that really mattered, even if he probably enjoyed making this one more than the ones we prefer to remember.
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The Sea Hawk (1940)
10/10
With Grateful Affection
17 February 2021
Warning: Spoilers
As great as "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is, for me "The Sea Hawk" is the all-time Errol Flynn film, the first one I'd show to someone who had never seen an Errol Flynn film and wondered what the fuss was about.

He's at the height of his powers here, handsome, athletic, assured, able to smoothly change tones from scene to scene and even within a scene as he woes his leading lady, the beautiful Brenda Marshall, calling her "Our Lady of the Roses" or as he accepts the official recriminations of Queen Elizabeth while expressing his friendship and loyalty to her.

The film contains one brilliantly done scene after another. Usually, the big battle comes at the beginning of the film as Flynn, (Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, based on Sir Frances Drake), captures a Spanish galleon full of oars manned by enslaved Englishmen and carrying Claude Rains' Spanish Ambassador and his beautiful daughter, (Marshall). Then we get Thorpe's charmingly shy wooing of Marshall and his wry exchanges for Flora Robson's Elizabeth. There's a haunting scene where Marshall has found out that Thorpe's mission to Panama will be a trap but arrives too late to stop him from sailing, able only to watch wishfully as he and his ship disappear into the fog. Then come the jungle battles and the eerie sight of Thorpe's apparently abandoned ship, the Albatross where the last remnants of his crew are captured. We see Thorpe and his men become galley slaves themselves but rebel and take over the ship to sail back to England, where Thorpe has a dramatic swordfight with the villain, Lord Wolfingham, (Henry Daniel), obviously intended to match or exceed the famous one between Flynn and Rathbone in 'Robin Hood'. Robson ends it by making a Churchillian speech prior to the battle with the Spanish Armada, which is not depicted here, (unlike the somewhat similar 1937 British Film, Fire Over England with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh). It's probably best it wasn't as the emotional peak for this film had already been reached.

The action of this film takes place about a decade before the previous years "Elizabeth and Essex". Here Flynn is not trying to take over the Kingdom and his affection for Elizabeth makes more sense. Robson's Elizabeth doesn't probe into her neurotic psyche the way Bette Davis does but she had a greater presence and a charming sense of humor, even if she retains the quick temper. Marshall is a statuesque heroine but the emotional timbre of her performance is convincing. The cast is full of the 'usual suspect' of an Errol Flynn film. Alan Hale continues to be joined at Flynn's hip. Rains plays another schemer, although he loves his daughter, as does Daniel, who had a similar role in 'Elizabeth and Essex'. Unlike Rathbone, he was no swordsman and their duel in the finale is done by stuntmen but still very effective. Donald Crisp is the stalwart courtier, warning Elizabeth of the Spanish threat. Una O'Connor repeats her role as the heroine's maid from 'Robin Hood'. Montagu Love, King Henry VIII in "The Prince and the Pauper" and the Bishop of the Black Canons in 'Robin Hood', is King Philip of Spain here, his shadow falling over the map of the known world as he declares that one day it will simply be a map of Spain. William Lundigan makes another appearance but can't survive the jungle. You can also recognize Edgar Buchanan in an early role, shortly after he turned his dentistry practice over to his wife. Swashbuckling was more fun.

Michael Curtiz keeps his usual brisk pace and the film is blessed by another great musical score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold live it the lush romantic ambiance old Hollywood was so good at. The brief 'Dona Maria's Song' is amazingly beautiful. Just one more perfect thing for a perfect film.

The background of all this was the war that had begun the previous year. England was being bombarded by the Luftwaffe while the descendants of the sea hawks, the RAF struggled against great odds to prevent an invasion. Hitler clearly had the same ambitions as Philip. America was still officially neutral, as England was at the beginning of this film. The messages were even clearer to the audiences of the time than they are now: seek the peace but be prepared for war - and let the heroes come forth!
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Virginia City (1940)
8/10
Short of a classic but very under-rated
11 February 2021
Warning: Spoilers
1940 may have been the peak year of Errol Flynn's career. He made three memorable films that year: 'Virginia City', 'The Sea Hawk and 'Santa Fe Trail'. This was the first of them.

At the end of 1939's 'Dodge City', Flynn's character in that one, Wade Hatton, who just cleaned up that Kansas city, has agreed to go out to Virginia City, (in Nevada), and audiences must have thought the new film was a sequel to that one. It is not. The action in this one predates that one and Flynn here plays Kerry Bradford, an Irishman fighting for the Union who escapes from Libby Prison and is assigned to go to the western city not to 'clean it up' but to secure the gold being produced there for the Union. There he finds, in a classic movie irony, the former commandant of Libby, Randolph Scott, who has been assigned to remove much of that gold to the Confederacy to finance the war effort. Hollywood had to straddle the subject of the Civil War in those days, (same with the Revolution), because the losers of the war were now a major part of the market for their films. As a result, Flynn and Scott are depicted as rivals, rather than good or bad guys.

This necessitates the introduction of a genuinely bad guy, someone with no cause and no principles Enter Humphrey Bogart, who had been playing bad guy, (or worse guy) in Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney movies. Here he's a Mexican bandit with a small army of henchmen who rob and steal throughout the west. He's wearing one of those pencil moustaches that were popular at the time and using a sort of Mexican accent that comes and goes. But he does a good job of providing a real bad guy, allowing both Flynn and Scott to appear admirable by contrast.

A major weakness in the film is the leading lady. It was supposed to be Olivia de Havilland. Who had grown tired of being Flynn's love interest, so much so that in Dodge City, she wanted to switch roles with Ann Sheridan, who played sexy dance hall performer and have Ann play the demure, wistful heroine. Had she taken the role in Virginia City, she would have been able to play both roles in one. 'Julia Hayne' is a strange hybrid of a southern belle and girlfriend of Scott's who is not above spying for her beloved confederacy. Somehow that has transformed her into saloon entertainer in Nevada. She falls for Flynn on a stagecoach trip west but remains loyal to the Confederacy and helps Scott, whom she continues to love as well. She has a final scene in which she pleads with President Lincoln to spare Flynn, who has hidden the gold to save it from Bogart but prevent it from getting to the Confederacy but also insure that it won't be used against them, (talk about fence-straddling!), after which she is so impressed with Lincoln that she promises to tell the people of the south what a great man he is. That must have been an interesting trip.

With de Havilland refusing to play the role, it probably should have gone to Sheridan but instead Miriam Hopkins, a good character actress approaching 40, (when that was middle aged) was chosen. She lacks the stunning looks and glamour de Havilland would have brought to the project and can't sing a note. Her scenes with Flynn fall flat. Flynn's affection for her seems forced although his reaction to her betrayal of him seems realistic. They lack any screen chemistry.

Despite these problems, the film is very entertaining, better, in my view than Dodge City which is often said to over-shadow it. As in that film, Alan Hale and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams form a comedy team of protectors for Flynn. Dickie Jones joins Scotty Beckett, ('The Charge of the Light Brigade'), and Bobs Watson, ('Dodge City'), as young boys whose on-screen deaths show how cruel the bad guys are. John Litel adds some gravitas in another small role. What dominates the film are the big, exciting action scenes, the amazing stunt work, impressive use of actual locations and painted backdrops and the larger-than-life musical score from Max Steiner, which gives the film an epic feel that 'Dodge City tried for but came up a bit short on. One wonders why this one wasn't made in technicolor.

A couple of sad notes: As noted in the trivia sections, this film was re-released in 1956 and advertised as a Randolph Scott - Humphrey Bogart film. Hopkins had been forgotten and Flynn's life and career had deteriorated to the point that he was no longer a drawing card. But in 1940 he was at the height of his powers and easily dominates this film. He was one of two great heroes of my youth, (I was born in 1953). An afternoon movie show presented many of Flynn's best films and "The Adventures of Superman" was being broadcast with my other hero, George Reeves, who appears briefly here as an army telegrapher. Both died in 1959 and my parents didn't have the heart to me that they were gone.
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8/10
The actual day!
10 February 2021
Warning: Spoilers
A fun episode about Ralph trying to get his sister-in-law to elope so that he can go to Game 5 of the 1954 World Series between the Giants and the Indians the next day instead of having to attend her wedding. Ralph and Alice have one of their best arguments. Ralph meets Norton at a manhole for lunch and we hear all kinds of details about life in the sewer. (They have a 'floating crap game', perhaps the best line in the series.) They visit the fiance at a movie theater where he is the projectionists and Norton takes too much interest in the film- the actual reel of film. Finally, Ralph and Ed have to assist the elopement with the help of a flimsy ladder which caused Gleason to improvise much of the scene, (no doubt remembering that he'd broken his leg on the show the previous spring).

But the kicker comes when Frank Marth, playing still another policeman, informs Ralph that there won't be a game on Sunday October 5th because the Giants wrapped up the sweep of the series that day - October 4th. And that actually happened that day! They must have added that line at the end of the already written show when the Giants won that day's game a few hours before.

One little problem - Game Five would have been played in Cleveland!
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Studio One (1948–1958)
7/10
A portal into TV's past
8 February 2021
I've always wanted to see the original, 1954 TV production of "12 Angry Men". The 1957 starring Henry Fonda is one of my all-time favorites and I love comparing movie versions of famous dramas to the original TV versions. When the Archive of American Television issued their Studio One Anthology which included the original version of "12 Angry Men", I had to have it. I wound up watching all 17 presentations, which cover the glory era of Studio One, which, with Playhouse 90, is one of the two most famous of the live TV anthology shows that, with the live variety shows, constituted the "Golden Age of TV", which reigned before the networks deserted New York for the west coast and filmed series with rigid formats.

Watching 17 Studio Ones in 17 nights was an interesting experience, different of course then watching it once a week and watching these particular episodes over 8 years. The effect was slightly depressing while at the same time being enlightening. Part of the reason was that I was watching kinescopes, which, even when in relatively good condition, look a bit like dream sequences, fuzzy and dark. And 16 of the 17 episodes are dramas, one an opera, (a genre which I always find kind of dire). Afterwards I had an enormous desire to watch an episode of Hawaii Five-0, which, while it's also decades old, is shot on film out of doors and in the sun.

We tend to think of the anthology shows of this era in terms of "Marty", "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and "12 Angry Men". Every week a classic. But it wasn't like that. The live dramas of the Golden Age had the advantage of being open-ended: you could write about what you wanted to, so long as you kept it clean and danced around the political mores of the times. But they also were hastily done, cheap, and were shot entirely in a studio, (Studio One's was in Grand Central Station, no less), and lacked the "floor" episodic TV had, even if they also lacked its ceiling. The worst Hawaii Five-0 is probably better than the worst Studio One, even if the best Studio One goes beyond anything Hawaii Five-0 could do. This is a sample of some of the show's best work but many of the 17 plays are nothing exceptional.

The very first Studio One, (on TV, anyway: it had been on radio for a year), was "The Storm", on 11/7/48. It was redone 10/17/49 and that's the version we see here. It's just a "woman in distress" story, along the lines of "Suspicion", as an insecure young woman marries a "nice guy" and finds out he isn't. Other than its historical value, it isn't all that interesting. The oldest kinescope here is "The Medium", (12/12/48- the third ever Studio One), a Menotti opera chiefly interesting, (to me, anyway), because the producer of the stage production upon which it's based was Ephraim Zimbalist Jr., a decade before he played Stu Bailey on "77 Sunset Strip"

The best thing about these old shows is the faces- the many recognizable actors, most of them early in their careers, who appear. Jack Lemmon, in perhaps his first appearance before the cameras, (6/22/49), plays the sort of nice young man, (an aspiring songwriter), that he would become famous playing in the next decade in "June Moon". Eva Marie Saint, also an early appearance, plays the girl he falls for. Edward Andrews, a comical or occasionally menacing businessman in 60's films and TV shows, plays a more established songwriter. David Opatoshu, whose stock in trade was intellectual leaders, (see Star Trek's "A Taste of Armageddon"), here plays a window washer who anticipates Ed Norton of The Honeymooners. But the play itself is nothing special.

Charlton Heston first made a name for himself on this show and appears as Heathcliffe is a reasonable adaptation of "Wuthering Heights". The problem with such adaptations is that they had to be shoehorned into an hour and cut for Betty Furness's commercials. We get the beginning of Julius Caesar, in which Alfred Ryder does Mark Anthony's speech without Marlon Brando's passion but with a wry intelligence that was probably closer to what Shakespeare intended. It's fun to see perennial TV bad guys like Ryder and Bruce Gordon, who plays a Centurion, in non-bad guy classic roles. Most of the cast of this one turned up on "Perry Mason" over the years, multiple times.

I liked Cyril Richard as Pontius Pilate in and Easter special from 1952. A 1953 version of 1984 with Eddie Albert and Lorne Greene is powerful, (but the most depressing of all). Greene's deep voice works as well for the head bad guy as it did for the head good guy on Bonanza- it could be as frightening as it was reassuring.

The one comedy is "Confessions of a Nervous Man" from 1953 with Art Carney playing George Axelrod in a story of what it was like to write a hit play, "The Seven year Itch", (he even drops the names of Bill Wilder and Marilyn Monroe, who were preparing the 1955 film version). Audiences of the day knew that Art Carney was capable of a lot more than playing Ed Norton but that's all anybody sees today.

The greatest legacy of the live anthologies was the opportunity they gave for talented young dramatists. Gore Vidal wrote "Dark Possession" (2/15/54), which examined split personality three years before "The Three Faces of Eve" and "Summer Pavilion" (5/2/55), an homage to Tennessee Williams. Rod Serling provided "The Strike", a powerful drama with a great performance by James Daly who has to order an air strike that will kill some of his own men. (It anticipates the Twilight Zone episode "The Purple Testament".) He also wrote the last one in the collection, "The Arena", (4/8/56), a drama of Congress that turns "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" around: the veteran Senator turns out to be the good guy while the new guy wants to destroy him. It also anticipates Vidal's "The Best Man" in that the younger Senator, (Wendell Corey), is tempted to use McCarthy-like tactics against this rival but finally declines to do so.

But the writer who got the biggest reputation from Studio One is Reginald Rose, who became famous for "12 Angry Men" and for "The Defenders", the pilot of which was done on Studio One in 1957 (not included in this collection but I already had it: it's the one "Boston Legal" used because it featured William Shatner 50 years ago: the original is much better). He also wrote "The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners" (1/11/54) and "An Almanac of Liberty" (11/8/54), both of which feature impromptu trials- the first by children and the second by some mysterious force that stops time. Both are artificial and preachy. Much better is "The Death and Life of Harry Benson" (5/31/54) with Skip Homeier as a soldier pretending to be a deceased buddy so he can have a family and "Dino" (1/2/56), which made Sal Mineo a star in a semi-autobiographical role that was also done as a movie the next year.

Ms. Furness's commercials are interesting if a bit jarring. Somehow the fact that she's doing them at the same time the dramas are being presented, with just a flat between them is a little disturbing, especially when we've just left a desolate Korean outpost like the one in "The Strike". A filmed commercial seems more distant and easier to tune out. The technology of those appliances Betty is hawking is not so different now than it was then and those refrigerators, ranges, washers and dryers look a lot more solidly built that the junk I've got in my kitchen now. Where can I get them?

Ultimate, the feeling one gets is of peering back into the mists of time. "The Medium" was broadcast 60 years ago. If the players in it could watch something that was 60 years old then, they'd be watching something from 1888. Jack Lemmon was not yet 24 when he acted in "June Moon" and died seven years ago at the age of 76. Elizabeth Montgomery appears in "Summer Pavilion" at age 22, young, talented and beautiful. She died 13 years ago at the age of 62. Eddie Albert, who lived to be age 99, co-stars with Norma Crane, who died at age 44. Virtually all the performers in these old kinescopes left us, many of them long ago.

But, thanks to the Archive of American Television, they are still with us.

(First posted to the IMDB message board in 2008)
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9/10
Don't touch that dial!
8 February 2021
Warning: Spoilers
No, it's not your vertical hold, (remember that?). That's Jackie Gleason's face, (Ralph Kramden), as he has to chow down on a sugar-laden candy bar on national TV with a terrible toothache. it's probably the greatest 'take' of all time. The method Ralph and Ed use to deal with Ralph's toothache the night before is also one of the great Honeymooner's moments.

When the "Lost Episodes" came out in the 1980's, a friend of mine who was big fan of the "Classic 39" expressed disappointment in them. he felt they were of inferior visual quality, being "kinoscopes", a record of a live broadcast created by literally bolting a film camera face-t0-face with a TV monitor and recording the show 'through the glass', compared to the Classic 39, which were simultaneously broadcast and filmed by a special process known as an 'electronicam'. I disagreed for two reasons: while the electronicam image and sound were of consistent quality, they had the 'distant' feeling of any old film. You can watch a black and white movie from 1955 and it might be a good movie but it looks like it was filmed in 1955 and you are stuck in 2021. The Lost Episodes may have some imperfections but if you look past them you can see the live performance and think that you are in 1954, when this episode was presented.

The second reason was that I felt the real peak of The Honeymooners in terms of story telling and humor was the year before the Classic 39, the 1954-55 season. The series has matured past the 10 minute sketches that were about arguments and become a full-blown show of it's own within the Jackie Gleason Show. it had fully developed characters and relationships, multi-faceted stories that lasted not 25 minutes as with the Classic 39 but 45 minutes and writers were at their peak. the humor was louder more raucous than the Classic 39 but once you get used to that you laugh harder. Some of these stories were re-done with the 60's Jackie Gleason Show but Jackie and Art Carney were older, more baggy-eyed and had lesser performers playing their wives so it wasn't as entertaining. these are the originals and the best versions of these stories.

So, If you've just watched "Ralph's Sweet Tooth", congratulations. You are about to go on a wild ride of laughs through the greatest season television's funniest show ever had!
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9/10
When I think of what you would do to my country if you were King
3 February 2021
Warning: Spoilers
A year after playing an otherwise sensible woman in love with Errol Flynn in "The Sisters", Better Davis got her greatest role, playing Queen Elizabeth I, madly in love with but scared of the ambitious and proud Earl of Essex, played by Errol Flynn. She had no affection for Flynn in real life and the feeling was mutual. Flynn, in her view, lacked dedication to the profession of acting and she desperately tried to get Lawrence Oliver, who was in town with his wife, Vivien Leigh, who was making Gone With the Wind/ Olivier was not yet famous here, (but soon would be with Wuthering Heights and Rebecca), and Jack Warner, who spent a lot of money on this film, insisted on Flynn to help guarantee the box office. Years later, Bette's pal Olivia DeHavilland sat down with her to watch the film and Davis pronounced Flynn's performance "brilliant". But he was no longer around to enjoy the praise.

Flynn lacks the Shakespearean passion and presence Olivier would have brought to the role but he surely understood this proud, ambitious man and gives a capable performance. It's high praise to say that he's not blown away by Davis, for whom this film is a symphony of emotion. She not only has the love-hate relationship with Essex but, even late in her reign and life, (or perhaps because of it), she is both domineering and insecure. Her anxiousness for the fate of her fragile country, (England's great power came in later centuries) and the pain of a lifetime of unsuccessful relationships comes through in every scene, especially in the one where she commands that all the mirror in the palace be destroyed so she won't have to look at herself and be jealous of the pretty young ladies in her court.

The love story between Elizabeth and Essex is one of the many 'improvements' on history to be found in Flynn's films as well as many other movies of Hollywood's Golden Era, (and since). Elizabeth was twice Essex's age and there's no evidence of any kind of May-December romance. But in this film it becomes a tragic love story, one the emotional level of Romeo and Juliet but much more complex because R and J's fate was determined by a conflict forced upon them whereas this is about internal conflicts and flawed relationships. The final scene where Essex climbs what had been a hidden staircase for his final scene with his Queen and the descends again when they both agree that he must die is haunting. It's as if he's voluntarily entering Hell to save her and her England.

The film is a little unnerving these days, (2021) as we hear about Essex's army taking over the palace and being described as a 'mob'. I prefer to consign such thoughts to an 80-year-old movie. Maybe someday we will be able to do so again. The look of the film is fantastic, particularly if you've got the remastered DVD version. One quibble: the gunshots in the Ireland sequence sound as if some six-shooters were left over from Dodge City. The matchlock weapons of the time would have fired, (infrequently) with a small explosion. In fact, they were sometimes called 'hand cannons'.

Olivia De Havilland appears in a Flynn film for the 6th time but it wasn't a happy occasion for her, either. She plays a lesser role as one of the young pretties the Queen despises. She winds up conspiring against her and Essex and is told that this will cost her her life in the final scene. Olivia had fought hard to get to play Melanie in GWTW and Warner 'punished' her by giving her this lesser role in this film. It's also the third and last film in which she doesn't wind up in Flynn's arms, preferring Patrick Knowles in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'Four's a Crowd'. For the second and last time Alan Hale is Flynn's antagonist instead of his buddy. He lost a sword duel to Flynn in 'The Prince and the Pauper' but whips him in battle in this one.

The action of this one takes place about a decade after the action in "The Sea Hawk", a film Flynn made a year later that has some similarities but also some he differences to this one. I'll be discussing that comparison when I review that film.
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Dodge City (1939)
7/10
Somebody's got to do something
28 January 2021
Errol Flynn was now riding high and the studio decided to put him in a western - not just any western but possibly the biggest budget western to date. Everything about Dodge City is BIG. The biggest stampede, the biggest saloon brawl, the biggest lynch mob, the biggest train battle, etc. etc. (Scenes were shot for this film that were used in dozens of films and TV episodes for decades to come.) The cast is enormous and full of recognizable actors, (including five members of the same year's 'Gone With the Wind'). All the bigness obscures what is essentially a B movie plot in an epic frame.

The beginning of the film is a history lesson about the coming of the railroad and the death of the great buffalo herds. At the end, Flynn's hero, Wade Hatton is invited to come to Virginia City, (the title of a later Flynn western with an unrelated plot), to clean that other legendary town up. But in between it's the old one about the drifter who sides with the oppressed against the guy who owns the town. To me it seems a bit lesser than many of Flynn's other westerns because of the cliches. But it's usually cited as one of the big films of Hollywood's biggest year. It is certainly energetic and entertaining enough.

Basically, it's about standing up to the bad guys after several outrages as a series of characters fall victim to the heavies before the hero, a drifter who doesn't want to get involved feels obligated to act. Flynn becomes the sheriff of Dodge and institutes, of all things, gun control! He gets the goods on the town boss with Olivia De Havilland as the key witness and the final confrontation comes when Flynn tries to get her and a captured henchman out of town on a train that catches fire as the two sides battle it out.

One who wasn't' impressed was Olivia De Havilland, who was so upset to be playing Flynn's love interest in still another film that she cried between scenes. She's supposed to have made the absurd suggestion that she switch roles with Ann Sheridan as a raucous saloon girl. Starring in a big budget Hollywood film would not seems like something to cry about but actors are like that. There were three more Flynn films to come, one in a minor role in 'Elizabeth and Essex' and two very good roles in better westerns, 'Santa Fe Trail' and 'They Died With Their Boots On'. There was also GWTW, two Oscars and a famous lawsuit.

Flynn is supposed to have reservations of his own: What is he, an Australian, doing in the American West? The film tries to explain this with a lengthy description by Hale of all the adventures Wade Hatton has had all over the world. There was really no need. Nearly everyone in the West who wasn't an Indian or Mexican came from elsewhere. The stereotypical westerner didn't exist yet. A guy like Flynn, had he been born in the previous century, might have come here for the gold and silver rushes. Much of the money than went into the West came from the British Isles and the overseers of the big ranches were often from there. Then there were remittance men, members of wealthy families who were paid to go there after an estrangement. There would be seven more Flynn westerns to come and no attempt to explain how he got there was offered in any of them.

Among the featured players are Alan Hale and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams in their first pairing as Flynn's comic sidekicks, Bruce Cabot as the bad guy, Victor Jory and Ward Bond as two of his henchmen, Frank McHugh as a too-courageous newspaper editor, John Litel as a too determined cattleman, Bobs Watson as his too-cute son, Russell Simpson of 'The Grapes of Wrath' and many other recognizable faces. One is William Lundigan, a native of my town, (Syracuse NY), who like Ronald Reagan, was a good-looking radio announcer who decided to try his hand at Hollywood and wound up in several Flynn films in the 'second lead' role, although here he plays Olivia's foolish and drunken brother. He was also a pollical conservative who tried to follow Reagan's lead to a political career with less success and died early of a heart attack.

The suggestion that the saloon brawl be preceded by a musical duel of groups singing "Marching Through Georgia" and "Dixie" inspired the musical duel in 'Casablanca' is interesting. I confess that watching the comely Miss Sheridan in a sexy costume wandering through the brawl while a temperance meeting next door is compromised made me think of a certain scene in the 1970 film 'There Was A Crooked Man'. Perhaps that, too was inspired by 'Dodge City'.
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10/10
Mission: Accomplished
27 January 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Probably Errol Flynn's best dramatic film, certainly of his great period of the late 30's and early 40's. He and David Niven play that rare species- the veteran World War I pilot, who has flown flimsy crates to high altitudes to take part against similar fools in battle. Most of these heroes wound up being honored posthumously and the mortality rate of infant pilots was enormous. The pilots defended themselves emotionally from this with gallows humor and music and a 'devil may care' attitude that masked their actually very deep concerns. They even welcome a captured German flyer who shot down Niven's plane as a colleague of sorts and they all wind up getting drunk together.

The war seems like it will go on forever and has gone on forever. Peacetime seems like another lifetime. The great war machine keeps feeding young pilots who have barely learned to fly a plane into this meat-grinder. Their commander, Basil Rathbone, great in a sympathetic role after being a Flynn antagonist in two films, desperately wants to fly himself - much better to do it yourself than to send others out to die. But he was so good at it that he was promoted to a job where he wasn't allowed to lead the attacks himself. Yet he is just a middle manager- helpless in the face of a constant stream of heartless, even illogical orders from 'headquarters' to send out his men to perform miracles in their primitive machines. Flynn and Niven hate him while Rathbone is going mad.

The greatness of this film is that it doesn't stop with that situation. The story changes as the frames of film change to form a unified image. Rathbone gets promoted to headquarters, where he can at least fight the unrealistic expectations of the higher-ups. Flynn is appointed to replace him. I've always said that everybody's job is harder than someone who has never done it imagines and Flynn finds this out, especially when Niven's younger brother arrives in the latest batch of recruits. Niven wants to train him in the basic skills he'll need to have a chance to survive. But there's no time- the whole unit is needed for an assignment - except for Flynn who is now the one left behind after sending others to die, including, as it turns out, Niven's brother. Niven comes to hate Flynn as they both once hated Rathbone.

Eventually, Flynn, against orders, decides to fly a suicide mission himself rather than send Niven. Unlike the identical situation in the tepid "Another Dawn" from the previous year, we see this adventure in all it's glory, as Flynn in his little plane produces destruction on the level of James Bond with his little bombs but is fatally shot down on the way back, allowing Flynn to die gloriously for the second but not the last time in his cinematic career. Niven now has to assume Flynn's job and is just beginning to find out what that's like in the last scene.

He is by far the best of the 'second leads' that Flynn often had in his films, (others: Patrick Knowles, William Lundigan, Ronald Reagan). The supporting cast includes Donald Crisp as an older officer who, powerless to change things, just tries to keep everybody's spirits up, Melville Cooper, (the Sheriff of Nottingham in "The Adventures of Robin Hood"), as a similarly inclined sergeant and Barry Fitzgerald, who is in charge of handing out the booze.

You read in multiple sources that some other actors, (including Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart) considered Flynn 'lazy' or untalented and had contempt for his stardom. Look at this film and several others, including "Edge of Darkness", "Uncertain Glory", "Silver River" and "Too Much Too Soon" and you'll see a talented actor capable of playing complex roles with both strength and subtlety. "The Dawn Patrol", a remake of a 1930 film that is also very good, (and which provided much of the action footage for this one), stands as a great war movie in the best sense and one of the very best about "The Great War". Too bad it wasn't the "war to end all wars". At least Flynn got some more good pictures out of the next one.
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The Sisters (1938)
6/10
Davis and Flynn playing against type
5 January 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Bette Davis, Anita Louise and Jane Bryan play three small town siters who marry Errol Flynn, Alan Hale and Dick Foran and have problems with them, (Flynn can't get his life together, Hale is too old and Foran has an affair with the town tramp). The focus is on the two big stars and both are excellent, Davis as a practical girl who suddenly finds herself madly in love and Flynn as a guy who wants to be like Errol Flynn but lacks the confidence.

It must have been easy to look across the room and fall in love with Flynn, (although Davis in real life decidedly didn't), but up close he's not's not as good as he looks. He wants to have adventures and see the world but the farthest he's been able to get is to become a San Francisco sportswriter and dream of the great novel he's going to write. Bette gets him to actually try to write the novel but nobody wants to publish it. He loses his job in an argument with his boss. Bette goes to work and proves to be more conscientious and successful as an employee than her husband ever was, (I've seen something similar happen in real life - the man feels obligated to be the bread-winner and the more capable wife stays home). His failures get the better of him. He drinks too much and decides to leave her to become an adventurer aboard a ship just as the 1906 earthquake hits. He shows up a couple of years later when she's fully established in the business world and wants to marry her boss. Instead, she takes him back. That was the 'happy' ending, although to what happiness that will lead, we don't know. That's not how the book ends. The studio filmed both endings and let the preview audiences decide. It would be fun to see the other ending but the old VHS tape I have of this doesn't include it.

Davis, besotted with Flynn on screen, was disgusted with him off of it. She claimed he said "Why do you work so hard?" She was appalled when he was assigned to play Essex opposite her Elizabeth I the next year instead of Lawrence Olivier. Years later she watched that film with her friend Olivia de Havilland and admitted to her that "he really was good". But she didn't think so at the time so her performance as a well-grounded young women who sprouts wings when she sees him constitutes great acting. Flynn, for his part, does very well, a confident man playing one who isn't. He may have lacked focus on his career but he was never timid, as this man is. Yet he conveys his emptiness well. The character's alcoholism and failure as a husband may have anticipated his own problems in those areas but Flynn's troubles, whatever the cause, were very different than his character's. And I don't believe that he failed to work hard on this characterization: he was looking to prove he could 'act' and didn't consider swashbucklers as acting.

It's well known that there could have been a third film pairing Davis and Flynn. Jack Warner put together a package deal with Davis playing Scarlett O'Hara and Flynn Rhett Butler for Gone With the Wind but Davis would have none of it. Flynn could have been Rhett Butler- the sea captain who ran union blockades for a hefty profit, frequented Belle Watling's whorehouse and played poker with his Union captors while falling in love with the beautiful but tempestuous Scarlett. But he looked too young and pretty in the late 30's to have been the sardonic Rhett. He would have bene more convincing in the tole 10 years later when he looked more weathered. Gable was the perfect Rhett in 1939.
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6/10
Of course it's silly
31 December 2020
Someone posted that this film was 'a silly screwball comedy'. Of course it is: if a comedy isn't silly, it's not screwball. This one may not be a classic, but all the elements are there: pompous rich people, scheming reporters and a love triangle, er...square. It also has the comic supporting actors to make sure it all works. The rich weren't very popular in the depression so they were easy targets. The public's obsession with celebrities was already in full force and another easy target. And love mix-ups have been the basis for comedy since that original screwball - Willie Shakespeare.

Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland may not be Cary Grant and Carole Lombard but they do perfectly well and Ros Russell is a screwball icon. Patrick Knowles does a fine job and Flynn's foil. Walter Connolly, as the grumpy oligarch repeats his performance from "It Happened One Night". Melville Cooper, (the fourth member of the cast from 'The Adventures of Robin Hood': he was the comically villainous Sheriff of Nottingham) is his butler. Franklin Pangborn shows up as Knowles' manservant. Hugh Herbert is a justice of the peace and Margaret Hamilton is Connolly's housekeeper.

This one is way in the background of Flynn's career and not the kind of movie he's famous for but it's a solid piece of entertainment anyway. The great stars of the Golden Age made many such films and it's fun to look back and discover them and get a complete picture of their careers.
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10/10
A Classic of World Cinema
26 December 2020
This film is a classic of world cinema, the all-time romantic adventure film, with a serious backbone, a great love story but also wonderful action scenes and a great sense of fun to go with a perfect cast, unmatched production values and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's greatest musical score.

Errol Flynn is the perfect Robin Hood, romping through the film with a foolhardy confidence which he and his allies are able to back up. He can make an impassioned speech or play a delicate love scene with equal skill. He was doubled a lot more than it seemed in the action sequences but he was so handsome and athletic-looking it appeared he was not doubled at all. You could believe he could do anything. He and Basil Rathbone did much of the justly famous swordfight at the end. It's the one such scene in the film where the combatants really seem to want to harm each other, (in the others they just clang their swords).

Olivia De Havilland is a winsome Lady Marian, wearing some of the most spectacular costumes in cinema history. Rathbone is the perfect villain - articulate but arrogant and ruthless. (He was also an expert swordsman who cold run Flynn through at any time - but it would have ruined the picture.) Claude Rains is the effete, scheming Prince John. (How long would it have taken for one to get rid of the other had they won?) Melville Cooper is a comically corrupt but cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham, (usually the villain in these things). Alan Hale Jr. is such a perfect Little John that he played it three times - opposite Douglas Fairbanks in 1922, Flynn in 1938 and, of all people, John Derek, in 1950, (Hale's last film, done shortly before his death in January of that year). I think I spotted his son, Alan, Jr., (the Skipper on Gilligan's Island), who would have been a big and robust 16, playing one the archers in the tournament. He's dressed in a tattered brown outfit, standing just behind Flynn as Robin wins the tournament. Herbert Mundin is the unprepossessing but feisty Much the Miller's son. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Ona O'Connor is the sharp-tongued lady in waiting to Maid Marian and Much's eventual mate. Ian Hunter provides the necessary presence for Richard the lion-hearted. Montagu Love, the excellent henry VIII in the previous year's 'The Prince and the Pauper', is the dour Bishop of the Black Canons. Eugene Pallette, an unlikely swordsman, plays friar Tuck, also an unlikely swordsman. Poor Patrick Knowles, as Will Scarlett, is given little to do but parade around in a suit of that color that hardly would enable him to hide in the forest.

Like most of Flynn's best films, this one kind of winks at history. Richard was no paragon of virtue. John may not have been as bad as depicted. The Normans and the Saxons had assimilated by 1191. Robin Hood is an amalgamation of many tales of outlaws in various ballads over the centuries. Attempts have been made to identify a real source for him and other fictional character like Maid Marian, Guy of Gisborne, Wil Scarlett and others but these attempts inevitably fail. Friar Tuck seems to have bene a combination of two different Friars and there have been sheriffs of Nottingham for over 1,000 years but we don't know which one appears in this story. It doesn't really matter: it's what these characters represent to us that matters: heroism, love, comedy, freedom, cruelty, corruption, deprivation - all the different aspects of the human condition.

Korngold initially didn't want to do the score for this, thinking that an action film wouldn't have the emotional content he wanted to display in his music. He was going to go home to Austria but the Anschluss kept him in Hollywood so he composed a score full of emotion that adds so much to this film. Two other experts also contributed mightily: Harold Hill, regarded as the best archer of all time, who unleashed every arrow you see without harming anyone and fencing master Fred Cavens, who choreographed all the swordfights, including the famous one at the film's end.

In the commentary on the 65th anniversary DVD, Rudy Behlmer tells us that 'the Adventures of Robin Hood' was the fifth most often presented film on television, behind #1 'Casablanca', then 'King Kong', 'The Magnificent Seven' and 'The Maltese Falcon'. That's pretty good company.
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Upstairs, Downstairs: Your Obedient Servant (1972)
Season 2, Episode 7
8/10
Holding up the standards
24 December 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Often times it's people who have risen to their ceiling in the middle of a hierarchy who do the most to hold up the standards of that hierarchy, since it gives them a status they would not otherwise have. Consider Mamie in Gone With the Wind lecturing Scarlett on propriety or old saying that "Generals run the wart but the sergeants run the Army".

In this one we see Hudson entertaining his brother's family on a visit from the far reaches of the empire, where he has bene a noted bridge-builder. he takes them out to a fancy restaurant. only to be seen there by his employer, Richard Bellamy, who is there with his own brother, who is appalled that a butler would eat at a fancy restaurant, "with his betters" Hudson is embarrassed to the point of being mortified and expecting to be fired. Richard, being a decent chap, is forgiving and even says that Hudson is free to spend his money, ( actually borrowed from Mrs. Bridges), in any way he likes. Hudson is appalled that his employer doesn't have the same standards he has, (but ultimately relieved that he doesn't and he can keep his job).
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7/10
Not perfect but a pretty good specimen
16 December 2020
I find most of Errol Flynn's minor films, well...minor. But this one is an exception. The premise seems one-joke gimmicky: Flynn has been raised by his grandmother to be perfect in every way, except that he lacks any experience of life, being kept a prisoner on her estate until Joan Blondell breaks through the fence surrounding the estate with her car, (a recurring, unsubtle motif). She convinces him to escape and see what life is like and he eventually does so, leading to a series of amusing misadventures reminiscent of 'It Happened One Night'. As reviewer 'SimonJack' points out, both films are based on magazine article by the same author, Samuel Hopkins Adams. If felt this to be as good but the I've always felt that 'it Happened' was a little over-rated, at least by the Oscars. Both films are amiable and fun and worth watching.

Flynn does a good job of playing the good-natured innocent. The flimsy premise comes not to even matter that much as he becomes just a guy trying to become independent from his grandmother and who has fallen for Blondell. This is one of Joan's best roles. In other films I've seen, she's the wise-cracking girlfriend of the hero or heroine. Here she's a romantic lead not at all dependent on zingers. The emotions of a woman falling in love but unsure she wants to join that family play well over her face. The film is full of Warner's wonderful character actors who, as a group, probably contributed as much to their films as their stars did.
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Another Dawn (1937)
4/10
Dickit?!?
15 December 2020
Warning: Spoilers
A tidbit on IMDB's 'Trivia' page says that for years, when there was a movie marquee in a Warner Brother's film, the film playing was called 'Another Dawn' so they finally decided to make a film called that. They also decided to get another film out of the impressive fort they'd built for "The Charge of the Light Brigade' and out of the now-forgotten Kay Francis, who said "I don't do much in it. Things just happen about me. I am just a wife who has been unfortunate in love, as usual." They also recycled part of the plot from 'Charge' by having Flynn heroically go on a suicide mission so Francis, with whom he is having a love affair, can stay with her husband, his commanding officer. But Flynn had become such a big star they changed their minds and had the Colonel, (played by Ian Hunter), go off in his stead, allowing Flynn and Francis to live happily ever after, assuming they don't fall for somebody else.

Other than that last-minute change, this is the most predictable movie of all time. From early on, you know exactly what is going to happen to each character and often in the next scene. Herbert Mundin ahs been branded a coward by his fellow soldiers. He heroically sacrifices his life to get them the ammunition they need to save their lives. Imagine that...

The film was clearly done on the cheap as the climactic sacrifice by the colonel is unrepresented except by a dispatch. Flynn is also shown dressing for a party that we hardly see. Contrast that to the scenes in the 'Charge'. Originally, the locale was supposed to be Iraq but here it's called, improbably "Dickit". The Colonel waxes poetic about the benign British empire" I see great wealth and an independent nation because England had faith in it". 'Classicsoncall' has pointed out that the poetic dialog doesn't bear close examination by fans of logic. There's some action but not a patch on 'Charge' or rest of Flynn's great films. The one laudable thing about the film is the excellent music by Korngold, who combined it with his score from 'The Prince and the Pauper' to create his marvelous piano concerto. But here the music is so go and the film so mediocre that the music overpowers the action rather than highlighting it or deepening the emotions it produces.
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The Crown: War (2020)
Season 4, Episode 10
9/10
The View From Here on Season 4
25 November 2020
I've just completed watching Season 4 and enjoyed it just as much as previous seasons, actually moreso than Season 3. I felt the second cast really grew into their roles in Season 4. Olivia Coleman was much more relaxed than in S3. Her characterization, which was rather stone-faced in S3, seemed much more natural with various shadings and very human reactions. She seemed much more an older version of Claire Foy's young sovereign in S1-2. Tobias Menzies also scored big, giving us a much more agreeable Prince Phillip than in S1-3 or "The Queen". Josh O'Connor is the best physical match for his character and has Prince Charles' posture down perfectly. Emma Corrin looks more like the teenage Lady Di than the adult Princess Di. her face is rounder and her jaw line different. She seems not to mature. It's probably best that we shall have another actress in the next series. But she's very good as the naïve young Di. Helena Bonham-Carter is given the opportunity to dig deeply into Princess Margaret and scores strongly enough to make me almost forget the excellent but inappropriately taller Vanessa Kirby in S1-2. Marion Bailey as the Queen Mother, Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, Tom Byrne at Prince Andrew and Angus Irmie as Prince Edward appear briefly and their characterizations thus lack depth but they do well with what they are given.

Early on i thought Gillian Anderson's performance as Maggie Thatcher belonged on Splitting Image or SNL. But like Olivia Coleman, she improved as the performance developed from episode to episode and I thought she was quite good at the end, although I wasn't able to see her character in a sympathetic light, even n the finals scene where she graciously accepted the Order of Merit in private from the Queen. I wonder what she really thought of getting an award from someone she had clashed with?

The storytelling is great, especially in the editing which is brisk and telling. The production values and photography are first-class. It made me want to watch the previous seasons, especially 1 and 2 again and look forward to Season 5, when we'll have a whole new cast and even bigger events to deal with.

How true was it all? I have no idea. You'd have to be a fly on the wall to confirm most of what we see here. Was Prince Charles really that myopic and selfish? Was Diana really that childish? Was Prince Phillip really that knowing and sympathetic? I have no idea. But it's a great show.
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The Lusty Men (1952)
4/10
Hard to see what the fuss is about
15 November 2020
So many people think is an exceptional film. I just saw it on TCM and the only thing that stood out was a very good performance from Susan Hayward as the reluctant wife of a new rodeo star. She's afraid he'll get hurt and wants him to quit as soon as he's won enough money for a ranch. That's literally the whole plot. Robert Mitchum is on the sidelines as a veteran rodeo cowboy who has "ridden too many bulls" but seems young and fit. Arthur Kennedy is an odd choice for the new star. He doesn't seem very athletic and was older than Mitchum. The ending is Hollywood hokum. Nicholas Ray directed it but it hardly compares to the previous year's "In a Lonely Place". Better things were to come for all concerned.
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