TCM Errol Flynn collection
Among the plethora of film genres out there one has distinguished itself as one of the most enduring of all time; the action flick. I don’t recall a season going by without several examples of this type of movie well represented in the current movie listing pages of you local newspaper. Even a moderately successful action movie can rake in enough in the way of revenue to make the studio’s fiscal quarter. In fact, a good summer block buster can make the studio’s entire year. While the action movie is a constant in film making just how the film is formatted has a tendency to change with the times. Currently the trend is towards high octane, explosive special effects but that was not always the case. In the golden era of Hollywood, the thirties and forties, the swashbuckling action film reigned supreme, dominating the box office. The swashbuckler archetype has been a staple in fiction for centuries. It is typified by a handsome, rugged leading man deadly to his foes and irresistible to the ladies. Usually the definition requires a good deal of expertise in sword play to pull off this role effectively. One man in the history of film has done more to cement this trope in the hearts of fill buffs forever making these roles his personal domain; Errol Flynn. Unfortunately, Flynn self destructed falling into public drunkenness, drug abuse, womanizing and brawling. Those who are mesmerized by the tabloid fodder provided recently by Charlie Sheen should note in many ways his tribulations are a tragic repeat of Flynn’s history. With that historical footnote out of the way Flynn was the greatest actor of the swashbuckling genre; often imitated but never matched. Recently Turner Classic Movies (TCM) released four of Flynn’s most famous action movies of a two disc DVD set. These are the films that defined a generation of action movies and made Errol Flynn into a Hollywood legend.
Turner Classic Movies has been releasing a series of four movie DVD sets for awhile now, distributed through Warner Brothers each set feature some of the best in a particular genre or focuses on the best loved films of Hollywood’s most memorable performs. There is a collection for any taste running the gamut from Broadway musicals to the cult classic horror flicks from Hammer studios. If you are a fan of classic cinema you certain have TCM on your cable’s favorite list and most probably have several of these sets in your collection. Currently most films in Hollywood are made under the ‘Star System’ where list actors can command salaries upward of $20 million. Back in the golden age when these movies were made they were under what has been called the ‘Studio system’ where the studios practically owned the careers of their actors. In return the promising stars were provided with extensive training including drama, comedy, and song and dance. It was common under this form of tutelage that virile young men were trained in stunt work and several forms of sword fighting. This training was one area of expertise that Flynn excelled.
These collections from TCM go far beyond just providing the feature film. Each side of both discs also has a Night at the Movies section. This takes you back in time to a typical evening at a local movie theater set in the year the main feature was released. As explained by noted film critic and historian, Leonard Maltin an evening always consisted of the feature film, cartoon, trailer, newsreel and a short. You can watch a movie just like your parents or grandparents did making a full evening of it. There is a lot in common between each of these films. One thing you might notice is several cast members appear in similar roles in the movies. This is again a result of the studio system that tended to create semi formal ensemble cast featuring a group of character actors to fill in the cast. In movies starring Flynn it was not uncommon to find Claude Rains as the dastardly villain, Alan Hale Sr. as the trusty sidekick and Una O'Connor as the always popular hysterical older woman usually the maid in attendance to the leading lady. The fundamental structure of the films is pretty much the same making this a formulaic but highly entertaining genre. These movies are typically crafted around the three act play format. In the first act we get an initial action sequence just to get things moving and to introduce the visible hero and equally overt bad guy. We also are introduced to the leading lady who initially refers to Flynn’s character with adjectives such as ‘scoundrel, rouge or rascal. By the second third of the movie they are madly in love. This budding romance is put on hold when our hero is forced by his sense of duty to go on a highly dangerous mission followed by a song performed by the lady. This is when the true villain is revealed, the master mind pulling the strings for his own nefarious plot. Through an act of betrayal the hero is placed in dire jeopardy only to get out of it through the timely intervention of his trusty men. Before the end credits there is always a closing sword fight, almost always with arty shots of their shadows dueling, the death of the villain and the lovers reunited. These films were designed to provide a little something for every taste. From action to comedic relief and romance each film gives a lot of entertainment value perfect for the entire family.