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DVD Review: TCM Spotlight: Errol Flynn Adventures

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Errol Flynn’s cinematic adventures often involved a swashbuckling hero who rode his impressive swordsman skills and freewheeling charm to glory. During his prolific career, he churned out even more war films, playing a variety of war heroes that his heart condition prevented him from becoming in real life. Warner and Turner Classic Movies have released five of these pictures, rapidly released during WWII between 1942 and 1945, under the moniker Errol Flynn Adventures.

Although Flynn is undoubtedly the more well-known name, the box set could’ve almost as easily been attributed to Raoul Walsh, the accomplished director responsible for four of the five films. Walsh’s impeccably realized classical style turns what could’ve devolved into thinly veiled propaganda efforts into films that have a bit more subtext. Make no mistake, these films are all more-or-less war effort propaganda, but Walsh’s elegant camerawork and assured visual style make them far more artful than they could’ve been.

The films included are:

Desperate Journey (1942)

The jokiest film of the bunch, Desperate Journey features Flynn and Ronald Reagan as two members of a crew of airmen shot down over Germany. Captured as POWs, they manage to escape in a manner more befitting of a comedy, and must evade German forces on their way back to England.

While the film’s lack of seriousness seems inappropriate at times, it provides an interesting perspective on the Hollywood version of the war effort shortly after American forces were plunged into it. The signature Flynn snark is at its most recognizable here among the films in the set.

Edge of Darkness (1943)

The only non-Walsh film, Edge of Darkness is directed by Lewis Milestone with a screenplay from Robert Rossen. More of an ensemble piece than a starring vehicle for Flynn, the film features a Norwegian village under Nazi control, and examines the paths of pacifism vs. revolt, falling squarely on the latter’s side.

The villagers, including Flynn as fisherman Gunnar Brogge and Ann Sheridan as firebrand Karen Stensgard, wait for a supply of weapons to stage their rebellion. Karen’s father, Dr. Martin Stensgard (Walter Huston), and the town’s pastor are hesitant about engaging in violence, but an incident forces everyone to understand the need to fight the Nazis.

The film’s crushing lack of subtlety is made up for by an engaging ensemble cast, but this film feels even more propagandist than the rest.

Northern Pursuit (1943)

The action is moved to Canada in this film, where Flynn stars as Steve Wagner, a Royal Canadian Mountie who discovers a German spy. Wagner takes him into custody, but the spy escapes, leading Flynn into a mission where he uses his German ancestry to pretend he is a Nazi sympathizer. He infiltrates the German squad and acts as their guide across the Canadian wilderness.

Much of the film is patently ridiculous, and Wagner’s romance with Laura McBain (Julie Bishop) feels sorely out of place, but even though this is the weakest film in the set, Walsh’s direction makes it seem like the serious picture it absolutely is not.

Uncertain Glory (1944)

While the plot doesn’t always make great sense in Uncertain Glory, the film is actually quite successful, with superb pacing from Walsh. Flynn stars as French career thief Jean Picard. Bombing raids save his neck from the guillotine, and he’s eventually able to convince Inspector Marcel Bonet (a wonderful Paul Lukas) that his life could serve a higher purpose.

German forces in France have taken 100 hostages in retaliation for French sabotage against the Nazis. Unless the saboteur turns himself in, all 100 will die. Picard will pose as the perpetrator, and Bonet reluctantly agrees.

This is certainly a different kind of Flynn film, with his antihero status resulting in a more thoughtful and subdued portrayal than usual. Walsh succeeds in evoking a dark, moody atmosphere that even the more melodramatic elements can’t eclipse.

Objective, Burma! (1945)
The most widely recognized film in the set, Objective, Burma! is the only one to have previously received a DVD release. It achieves the kind of gritty, action-oriented war atmosphere that has become the default setting for war films these days.

Walsh stars as Capt. Nelson, the leader of a platoon of paratroopers sent to blow up a radar station. The soldiers must contend with great numbers of Japanese soldiers in encounters that quickly escalate.

Objective, Burma! is the only film that receives a true supplement — a commentary by historians Rudy Behlmer, Jon Burlingame, Frank Thompson. The other special features include a Warner Night at the Movies compilation on each disc, which compiles newsreels, cartoons and short films from the year of the film in an attempt to replicate the era’s pre-show entertainment.

These selections are often interesting, but it would have been nice to get some more background information on the films, and particularly on Walsh. Still, it’s a solid set, filled with classical Hollywood war propaganda — for better and for worse.


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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.