Last year, Warner Home Video put out a wonderful five disc DVD set, “Errol Flynn Adventures,” that focuses on the war movies the star made during the 1940s.
It’s not that “Desperate Journey” (1942, above), “Edge of Darkness” (1943), “Northern Pursuit” (1943), “Uncertain Glory” (1944) and “Objective Burma!” (1945) are such great movies, but they are true time capsules of Hollywood 70 years ago and a dramatic demonstration of the jingoistic (some would say propagandistic) films that were designed to keep home front morale high during World War II.
And Warner Home Video has outdone itself when it comes to the extras on each of the five discs, what the company calls “Warner Night at the Movies,” a sampling of the trailers, cartoons, short subjects and newsreels that moviegoers sat through before a feature film in the 1940s.
I enjoyed watching the attractive and personable Flynn fighting the Nazis and the Japanese in five of his films, but the short subjects are positively mind-blowing.
Those older folks who went to the movies in the early 1940s — or baby boomers like myself who tend to fetishize the so-called “Golden Age” of Hollywood — will get a good stiff dose of what might be called anti-nostalgia in the soppy little 20-minute soap opera, “Across the Wall,” in which a kindly priest helps his favorite prisoner (!) sneak back into jail after he escapes.
If you think popular music reached its peak in the pre-rock era, I would strongly advise you to watch the short devoted to “Borrah Minnevich and His Harmonica School,” a nightmarish series of numbers played by an army of harmonica players.
Another ghastly but fascinating short, “The Tail Gunner,” features future president of the United States Ronald Reagan as an officer who inspires a very short enlistee (Burgess Meredith) to go after his dream of being a bomber tail-gunner.
This is the sort of misguided ode to the military — enacted by men who sat out the war in Hollywood — that reportedly provoked catcalls when shown to actual soldiers overseas rather than homefront moviegoers (in more than one case, soldiers expressed their displeasure by shooting up the screens).
Errol Flynn was a huge star of the 1930s and World War II era who was never taken that seriously as an actor and whose career collapsed in the 1950s after a number of sex scandals (hence the immortal catchphrase, “In Like Flynn”).
Like our own era’s Mel Gibson, Flynn managed the mean feat of being a heartthrob for female moviegoers and a rugged man’s man type with males. But just like Gibson, Flynn’s looks deteriorated prematurely due to his chronic alcoholism (in the shot below, the fallen star is seen with a very young Brigitte Bardot in Cannes).
Flynn suffered from an image problem during World War II when the Australian-born star claimed he wanted to serve in the military but was classified 4-F. The Warner Bros. PR department failed to address the criticism because of fears that the declining state of Flynn’s health (including the effects of a number of venereal diseases) would become public knowledge.
The star died at the age of 50 shortly before the publication of one of the first big Hollywood self-tell-alls, “My Wicked, Wicked Ways.”