Warner Bros. Home Video continues its winning streak of classic movie box sets (the Film Noir Collection, the Classic Comedies Collection) with the release of Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection. There are enough films – Captain Blood (1935), Dodge City (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), The Sea Hawk (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941) – and bonus features to keep you entertained for days. This six-disc set includes newsreels, theatrical trailers, cartoons, five featurettes, one and two-reel shorts, and an exclusive documentary about his life entitled The Adventures of Errol Flynn.
The who’s who list of talent associated with this set is quite remarkable: Errol Flynn (of course), Olivia de Havilland (who co-stared with Flynn in eight films), Basil Rathbone, Bette Davis, Vincent Price, Brenda Marshall, Ann Sheridan, Claude Rains, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (legendary composer) and Michael Curtiz (who directed Flynn in twelve films). Some brick-and-mortar (B&M) retailers are selling the set for less than $40. Forty dollars for five films is an excellent bargain. Add on top the extras and exclusive documentary disc and this set is an absolute must buy for film buffs, both young and old.
“He was all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package.” (Jack L. Warner)
Errol Flynn became an overnight sensation when he was added as a last-minute replacement for the pirate epic Captain Blood. Flynn’s role as Peter Blood, a 17th-century physician turned pirate after escaping an unjust political imprisonment, would establish his career throughout the 1930s and 40s. He would soon be cast in swashbuckling tales (too many to name here), westerns, and light-hearted comedies. Flynn found success with the first two genres, not so much with comedies.
“Who could live with himself believing himself to be a symbol of sex and nothing more?” (Errol Flynn)
In a career that encompassed more than 50 films, Flynn would find solace in his later works. Tired of playing the roguish heroes Flynn entered a new contract with Warner Bros. that allowed him to be loaned out to one different studio production a year. One of these films was MGM’s That Forsyte Woman. In this film Flynn totally plays against type as the rigid, cold-hearted husband Soames Forsyte. In 1957 he got critical acclaim, in a supporting role no less, for The Sun Also Rises.
“All my life the one thing I feared the most was mediocrity.” (Errol Flynn)
All five films are new to this reviewer. Watching the first few scenes of Captain Blood, I am kicking myself for not experiencing more films of one of the most charismatic actors of all time. In the golden age of Hollywood where studios would sign stars for long time contracts, Flynn was subjugated to playing the swashbuckling hero and romantic lead, mostly. Nevertheless, Warner Bros. has given us some of his best performances – where he plays a pirate, a town sheriff, a nobleman, a sea captain and General George Armstrong Custer – with this collection. On the silver screen Flynn’s combination of athleticism and natural good looks made him accessible to both men and women. (A quality that is very hard to duplicate in today’s Hollywood.) When describing Errol Flynn this adage has merit: “Men wanted to be him, women wanted to be with him.” Errol Flynn is unquestionably a man among men.
The DVD Collection:
VIDEO: How does it look?
All films are presented in their full frame format and look good for their age. There are the expected video problems, dirt, and other artifact issues. But after sixty-plus years, it’s not worth complaining. Both Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex appear in their Technicolor glory.
AUDIO: How does it sound?
The audio is in clear Dolby Digital 2.0. Don’t let the 2.0 soundtrack fool you, though. Your two front speakers will definitely feel the beat when the legendary orchestrations of Erich Wolfgang Korngold are presented. Korngold’s beautiful compositions are definitely an ear to behold. Each film has optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Alternate French language tracks can be found on Captain Blood, Dodge City, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Everything you could possibly want and more!! Yeah, you want this!!!
The five films included in the Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection are special. Everything else is icing on the cake. Each film is a one-disc affair, but each has its own set of extras.
Somebody at Warner Bros. had the ingenious idea to give each film a “Warner Night at the Movies” experience. This is a fun feature that I wish more movies would utilize. Movies during the ’30s and ’40s were something special. Men and women would go to the movies and be treated to one theatrical trailer, a newsreel, one or two movie shorts, and a cartoon before the feature presentation. Today’s movies simply provide ten to fifteen minutes of commercials before getting to the previews. Add this to the number of previews (usually between five and eight) and it’s one long commercial break. I’ll take a nice 15-minute short film and a cartoon over a bunch of 30-second spots any day.
So after listenting to a short introduction by film critic Leonard Maltin the audience will be treated to different newsreels, theatrical trailers, cartoons, and short feature films. My only complaint is that there isn’t a “Play All” feature. You have to access each “Warner Night at the Movies” supplement separately.
The best feature of this set is The Adventures of Errol Flynn. This 87-minute program produced and directed by David Heeley explores the captivating actor from his troubled childhood in Tasmania (Flynn hated his mother until the day she died) to the pinnacle of Hollywood success to false rumors that he was a Nazi sympathizer. Narrated by Ian Holm, the documentary uses photos, film clips, home movies and commentaries by the likes of Olivia de Havilland and Richard Dreyfuss to accentuate this fascinating character.
Besides the extensive documentary, there are five more featurettes. There is one to go along with each Errol Flynn film. Each one includes comments by Lincoln D. Hurt, Professor of film at UC Davies, and Robert Osborne, Film Historian – and a fundamental part of Turner Classic Movies.
Captain Blood: A Swashbuckler is Born is a 23-minute piece that discusses the casting of Errol; the addition of newcomer Olivia de Havilland; and the supporting players. One small anecdote involves the tragedy of Ross Alexander, a WB contract player, who committed suicide shortly after the film was finished. Other topics discussed include the exhilarating one-two combination of director Michael Curtiz and the music of Korngold. “Mastering the sword” is an interesting piece where professional swordsmen speak highly of both Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone’s fighting technique.
In addition to the mini documentary, the Captain Blood disc also features two shorts and a cartoon: All-American Drawback, a comedy staring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy, Johnny Green and his Orchestra, a musical number, and the Merrie Melodies Billboard Frolics (all from 1935). Special to this disc is a 1937 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast of Captain Blood.
Dodge City: Go West, Errol Flynn (8:33) explores how Flynn’s and de Havilland’s characters never liked each others company at the beginning of the picture. But their attraction grows and they become fond of one another.
An interesting facet of Dodge City is the way the film was marketed. Close to 150,000 people gathered in Dodge City, Kansas to attended different festivities and to see the premiere of the feature film. The stars were treated like royalty. Thousands jam-packed the streets to just catch a glimpse.
Also included on the disc are the cartoon Dangerous Dan McFoo and the Academy Award-winning short Sons of Liberty (both produced in 1939) by Michael Curtiz. Staring Claude Rains this film tells the story of an American spy for the British who helped send messages to George Washington and his troops during the Revolution.
Elizabeth and Essex: Battle Royale (10:34) enlightens the home viewer about the problems both Bette Davis and Errol Flynn had working with each other. No slapping or fisticuffs came about, but there was tension in the air. Michael Curtiz pulled it all together, though, and directed a film that would go on to be nominated for five Academy Awards.
Here’s a movie trivia fact to impress your friends. Donald Crisp holds the all-time record for the number of appearances by an actor in film. He had over 400 films to his credit.
The musical short reel The Royal Rodeo (1939) has a child-size sovereign who prefers a horse and a lasso instead of a crown and throne. And the stuttering Porky Pig makes an appearance in Old Glory (also 1939), a cartoon where he learns the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action. In the 17-minute featurette the film is described as having the qualities of Captain Blood and Robin Hood with the “physical trappings” of Elizabeth and Essex.
Film professor Lincoln D. Hurst has gone on record as saying “there’s not a little boy that wouldn’t want to trade in his baseball glove or bike and play Captain Blood, Robin Hood, or the Sea Hawk.”
Porky Pig makes another appearance in Porky’s Poor Fish (1940) where he owns a pet store that is “under new mis-management.” Alice in Movieland (also 1940) is a short from an original story by Ed Sullivan. Out of all the short films included in this collection, this is my personal favorite. It tells the story of a woman named Alice Purdee (yes, Purdee) who wins a trip to Hollywood. On the train she dreams of Hollywood. At first she is the butt of jokes, but then she showcases her singing and acting talents. It just leaves you with a great feeling.
They Died with Their Boots On: To Hell or Glory (9:44) deals with the historical inaccuracies between the real-life story of General Custer and the cinematic equivalent. There weren’t a high number of faults with the storytelling, just the facts involving Custer’s drinking habits and how he arrives at West Point military academy. Bad blood was brewing between Flynn and director Michael Curtiz after they finished Dive Bomber. For this film Flynn told Warner Bros. that he did not want Curtiz to direct. The last on screen collaboration between Flynn and de Havilland is discussed.
Produced before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the movie short Soldiers in White tells the story of a man who is drafted into the Army and he does not want to participate. Made in conjunction with the U.S. Army and shot in California and Texas, the short is basically an advertisement for the Army’s medical department.
The last cartoon is an Abbott and Costello spoof involving two cats entitled A Tale of Two Kitties.
Whew, if it took a long time to read about the films and the special features, try watching them all. Next to The Criterion Collection, Warner Bros. sets the bar when it comes to classic releases.