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Errol Flynn … long time gone? It might seem so, but trust me, dear friends, ‘taint so. ‘Taint so! He’s just been sleeping in Kraft’s head for the last three months. Actually he needs to sleep a little more before I return to him (and Ms. de Havilland) on a regular basis. My writing editors must also feel that Kraft has slowly sunk to Davy Jones’s locker, ne’er to return. Deadlines? What are they? In the past I made them, regardless if they were easy or if it took me months on end (back when I was a writer for the Dark Side) with three to four hours sleep per night day after day with no end in sight until the work delivered on deadline. The Wynkoop book fit this description to a tee. Beginning in December 2010, and this included a major car wreck on the 134 freeway at high speed that totally destroyed a Corvette two days before Christmas (the front end, engine and everything else under the hood, the left side, the rear, and the car frame cracked in half), I missed only one day of work for the Dark Side as there were deadlines to be met. Thank you? Hell, you’ve got to be kidding! Recovery? It took me a year (a year of multiple deadlines for both the Dark Side and the freelance side), but the recovery would never be complete.
Sand Creek, Wynkoop, Geronimo? Kraft has learned how to become slow (it took years and years to get me to this point in my life). Hey, give me a break. Doesn’t good wine take years of aging? So does my writing. … I’m just a normal guy, and I have every intention of enjoying the flowers. Greg Lalire at Wild West and Chuck Rankin at OU Press understand this, and you should too. Aged writing is always better than speed-demon prose stolen from published and oft-times error-riddled tomes.
That’s right, many writers are lazy SOBs that do no real research. They survive by stealing from secondary books, and they make no effort to confirm the accuracy of what they are grabbing, and worse, oftentimes they make it sound as if the information is theirs (that’s right: they give no credit to the secondary writer they ripped off). … A sad state of affairs.
Kraft, what are you writing about today? Oh yes, Mr. Flynn swinging a blade.
Swords & Flynn
Swords and Errol Flynn go together. … Flynn was a graceful, athletic, sensitive (bet on it), and intelligent man who easily fit into anything that caught his interest. I don’t think “multi-tasking,” as we now know the term, existed in the 1930s and 1940s, but let me tell you that, term or no term, Mr. Flynn was adept at it. He made his life his.
Many of his critics haven’t acted and haven’t swung a sword, yet they spout out their expertise on what they have little knowledge. Mostly they’ve read books and reviews and repeat what they’ve read with little regard for accuracy of their (or their predecessors’) words. All they care about is that they’ve found mostly negative information that supports their premise, a premise they intend to build their expertise upon. A strong and not pretty indictment. Unfortunately ’tis all too true. I could name way-too-many books that pretend to be factual but in reality are little more than reprinted frauds, and worse they often invent quotes and create notes that have been pulled from the na-na land that we might call their brain.
Enter Ned Wynkoop
Ned Wynkoop? Those of you who read Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek know the connection between Wynkoop with Flynn.
I bring up Wynkoop here only as I want to use one example that relates to the above section, an example that I didn’t find, but one that Greg Lalire, editor at Wild West magazine and my friend for many-many years, supplied to me. Greg sent me the following quote from a book he is currently reading in an email (22nov13):
“I’ve been reading a book called The Heart of Everything That Is about Red Cloud but it covers a lot of ground in the Old West. I know Wynkoop didn’t like Indians at first, but what do you think of this paragraph from the book?
“‘Fort Lyon’s new commander, Major Edward Wynkoop, was a friend of Chivington’s, and far less disposed than his predecessor toward differentiating between antagonistic and friendly tribes. He looked for any excuse to declare Black Kettle and White Antelope hostiles, and when he found none he simply refused their people food; returned their old muskets, bows, arrows, and knives; and ordered them off the premises. They were, he said, free to hunt in a limited territory bordering a stream called Sand Creek that fed into the Smoky Hill river about thirty-five miles northwest of the fort. The Cheyenne sensed a trap, but they were reassured that as long as Black Kettle flew the white flag of truce above his lodge next to an old American flag the Head Man had once received as a gift, no harm would come to them. Two days after the Indians departed, on November 28, Chivington arrived and Fort Lyon with two field cannons and 700 men of the Third Colorado Volunteer Cavalry….’ Nothing more is said of Wynkoop after that….”
Of course I had to reply to Greg, but only partially as I could write pages and pages about the above quote: “The words from The Heart of Everything That Is gave me a good laugh for many reasons. I’m not going to waste my time with a lengthy explanation, but will say a few things. Wynkoop didn’t order the Indians to move farther away from Fort Lyon (he was already removed from command)—Maj. Scott Anthony ordered them away. And I don’t think Anthony told them where to go or where to hunt (at least I haven’t seen anything that states this). Wynkoop did not ask for the Indians’ weapons; Anthony did (but only for weapons they had taken from whites—no bows and arrows or knives), and Wynkoop certainly didn’t give the Indians their weapons back for he never had them. Wynkoop, after returning from meeting with the Indians on the Smoky Hill and they went to Denver (for the meeting at Camp Weld), was very favorable toward these Cheyennes and Arapahos—although he was still careful around them. … The entire paragraph is a joke. By reading it, I wouldn’t trust much else that is in this book unless there is solid proof of primary documentation.”
My next contracted book is Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway, and the manuscript deals with this very subject in 130,000-word detail. Based upon one paragraph, The Heart of Everything That Is is so error-riddled that it is unquotable and won’t even make the Sand Creek bibliography. Before returning to Mr. Flynn, I want to close this section w/Greg L’s immediate reply to my email (which was longer than quoted): “Hey, I cringed when I read that about Wynkoop and I obviously know Wynkoop only slightly while he is your best friend. (Well, sort of, I guess). The authors of the book write with a certain flair, but they brush over many things (and I wonder how accurately they brush sometimes). I wonder how much time they have actually spent on Wild West material.”
In regard to Greg’s last sentence and the paragraph he sent me, nothing those writers wrote is valid for in that one short paragraph everything they wrote was wrong.
Swords & Mr. Flynn … continued
Graceful, when describing Flynn, is an understatement. Put Flynn on a horse, and it looked as if he and the horse were one. Place a sword in Flynn’s hand and it looked as if he had been wielding a blade all his life.
Flynn was a great athlete who easily performed physical activities, but there was more. Ladies and gents, Flynn worked at his physical craft. Believe me, riding a horse and swinging a rapier takes practice and more practice. You don’t mount a horse and ride like you are one with the animal if you don’t put in the hours (and I don’t give a damn how good an athlete you are). Ditto the sword. You don’t duel competition or on film/stage without hours upon hours of practice and look good.
Flynn was lazy and didn’t work at his craft! Certainly this statement (or something like it) has been presented to us again and again in tomes written by writers that are less than expert at what they write about. Actually these writers, for the most part, have been little more than hacks that have created a premise and then have attempted to prove it (at times exchanging incomplete and inaccurate research for fiction to create quotes and notes that are as wild as some of the worse prose you’ve ever read in piss-poor fiction. This is nothing new to historical biography (maybe I’ll deal with this in a Wynkoop or Sand Creek blog). Trust me, Errol Flynn put in the time to master the sword for his screen performances.
|Although not part of this blog, Flynn’s acting was good (and for the most part, he learned on the job), so good that it holds up well today. The reasons will be made clear in Errol & Olivia. Not to worry, for I’ll touch upon Flynn’s acting (as well as Olivia de Havilland’s acting) in future blogs. I can’t give you the bulk of the book, but I’ll be able to give you a taste—hopefully just enough to excite your curiosity.|
Errol Flynn made 9 swashbuckling films, and yes he is known as a swashbuckler. Still, most people don’t realize that he worked in many genres of film: War (7), westerns (8), comedy (4), drama (I didn’t count), … there were adventures, film noir, mysteries. Well, you get the picture, he was capable of performing in different types of films. Of Flynn’s 9 swashbucklers, 4 are classics and are right at the top of anyone’s list of best 10 swashbucklers (2 are on my best 10 films of all time list).
Oh, by the way, there are two other film leading men that were good with a sword: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Stewart Granger.
They join Flynn on the short list of being much better than the rest of the screen swordsmen, which includes Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Tyrone Power, Cornell Wilde (who, I admit I haven’t seen swing a blade in decades, and you don’t want to know the reason) … all the way to so-called swashbuckling films of the last two decades (most of which survive off of filming doubles, using special effects, and making way too much of the action long shots). As the saying goes, if you can’t see the actor’s face, it isn’t the actor.
Three special mentions need to be made here: 1) Basil Rathbone, who was good with a blade in his hand and whom always looked good (albeit stiff: read, mechanical) trying to kill the hero on film—always, 2) Gene Kelly in the 1948 version of The Three Musketeers, and 3) The actors from three films created by director Richard Fleischer in the 1970s: The Three Musketeers (1973), The Four Musketeers (1974), and Crossed Swords (1977 or 1978) w/Oliver Reed (released in Great Britain as The Prince and the Pauper, and later on DVD w/this title).
Reed was in all three of Fleischer’s films (as was Charlton Heston), and he is by far the best actor swinging a blade in what are really farcical duels—the movements are so large and bold that a first-year fencing student in college could have easily won any of these filmed duels. That said, Reed, who unfortunately died young, looked good on film with the sword.
Conversely, Richard Chamberlain, an actor who has given us many good performances in a variety of roles, including three miniseries: Centennial (1978-1979), Shogun (1980) and The Thorn Birds (1983) wasn’t very good with a sword in his hand. Chamberlain played one of the leading musketeers in both of Fleischer’s films. After the hit Dr. Kildare TV series in the 1960s he worked on his craft and became a very good actor.
Case in point. I saw him play Cyrano de Bergerac on stage at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles (8th row center). During “the” duel his blade broke and an actor had to walk to him and hand him another blade (no improvising and avoiding being killed until he had another weapon—the action just stopped, and it wasn’t very good to start with). Worse, the entire duel was boring and anti-climatic. In other words, totally disappointing (especially so since Cyrano was supposed to be the world’s greatest duelist).
I had hoped to discuss in detail some of Flynn’s duels. Unfortunately during the drafting of this blog I changed my mind (blame it on taking too long to complete the blog, which in turn made me realize that I need to keep this information for E&O). My apologies.
I will say this, the dueling in Captain Blood (1935) was a combination of exciting shots/angles filmed on sand and rocks on the California coast. Some of this exhilarating, and some of it farcical. The farcical is not Flynn’s (or Basil Rathbone’s) fault, for they performed as choreographed. They slipped over wet and slimy rocks and kept their balance on the sand—some of this is very good, including Flynn’s death thrust to Rathbone.
That said, it is idiocy to swing blades that are thrusting weapons as if they are cutting weapons. Beyond that, Flynn’s swinging a thrusting blade like a saber but so high that all someone with a knife would have to do is duck, step in, and gut him. Again, not Flynn’s fault (but the dueling master’s). … BTW, the saber work on the ships is good.
The above said, Captain Blood is a great film for many reasons (not in this blog’s scope), as is The Adventures of Robin Hood (great for totally different reasons; again not in this blog’s scope). Sorry.
I’m going to say less about the dueling in Robin Hood, actually only two comments.
- No one, absolutely no one, can swing a broadsword as they were used in the film.
- If you can swallow the total misuse of the weapons and enjoy the dramatics of the sword fighting, the minor duel Flynn has with Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette) and the major duel he has with Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) are magnificent.
Both films and the duels will be dealt with in detail in Errol & Olivia.
BTW, the Oliver Reed-Mark Lester (as the prince and the pauper) film Crossed Swords is much closer to Mark Twain’s novel than the Errol Flynn-Mauch twins 1937 film (The Prince and the Pauper), and in my opinion, a much more satisfying film. That said, Flynn’s sword fight with Alan Hale at the end of the film was a huge improvement in his technique and form over the beach duel in Captain Blood. He now looked like he was a duelist and one to be avoided at the risk of loss of life. Graceful, deadly, but with a cocky panache that Hale’s evil captain of the guard would too-quickly learn, Flynn’s Miles Hendon marked his arrival as a swashbuckler and a suitor to share the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., armor as “the swordsman.”
Flynn’s Robin Hood would confirm this. Although Flynn would rub shoulders with Fairbanks up to and after his own death, with the arrival of The Adventures of Robin Hood in ’38 there really was no comparison. Fairbanks bounced around on film, and he constantly swung the blade, but I would rate him with B-actors in the “talkie” swashbucklers of the late 1940s and early 1950s. What linked Flynn and Fairbanks père was their “swashbuckling” success at the box office.
(Douglas Fairbanks fils, has already been mentioned positively above with Flynn and Stewart Granger. lk: I just got tired of using “Sr.” and “Jr.”)
An in-left field baseball comparison
The following is a way-out comparison, so bear with me. The best baseball pitcher I’ve ever seen was Sandy Koufax of Los Angeles Dodgers’ fame in the 1960s (he also pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but one never knew where his pitches were going back then). No other pitchers have compared to him—none. He was lights out in LA on a team that couldn’t hit the baseball. Meaning he could throw a 1 or 2 hitter with 1 walk and lose the game 1-0.
If Sandy had had the Brooklyn team of Duke Snider (see above image), Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, and Pee Wee Reese hitting for him in his prime (and if his career was longer), he would have easily won 30 games in multiple seasons.
The Sandy Koufax comparison to the rest of baseball pitchers (past and present, with possibly the exception of the Dodgers’ current gem, Clayton Kershaw) is what Errol Flynn’s swashbuckler was to the world of film—past and present (and there was/is no Clayton Kershaw in the Flynn equation). The only two swordsmen who are/were rivals in skill to him on film were Doug Fairbanks, Jr., and Stewart Granger, with a distant fourth perhaps being Oliver Reed. Basil Rathbone was very good with a sword, and perhaps would have done well in fencing competition, but alas, on film—and regardless of his skill with a blade—he was stiff, controlled, and worse, so concerned if his dueling stance and form was correct that one could never believe he’d win a duel. Perhaps, as Rathbone egotistically claimed, he could “kill Mr. Flynn whenever he wanted” (lk: This is a paraphrase.), but this is not quite true. Yes, most likely Rathbone might have defeated Flynn in fencing competition where points are scored (but let me tell you, in competition it isn’t always the duelist who strikes first who gets the point; it is the duelist who strikes legally who gets the point. Of course, in a real duel this fencer would be dead before he scored his legal point. My “point” here is this, I’ll take Messrs. Flynn and Fairbanks, Jr., and maybe Oliver Reed (not sure about Granger) over Rathbone in a duel to the death any day. Let me repeat that, any day.