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Errol Flynn Filmography

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Peter Blood leads his fellow slaves to victory - 45kb
Physician Peter Blood leads his fellow slaves to victory.

Captain Blood

1935 saw the enthusiastic return of the period film. With MGM's success of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, Warner Brothers thought they too would get into the seafaring genre with a remake of one of their silents. CAPTAIN BLOOD was all set to feature English actor Robert Donat, who starred the previous year in THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. Donat bowed out of 'BLOOD due to health problems.

Some people look upon this milestone in Errol Flynn's career as that classic case of being in the right place at the right time. His luck thus far had carried him through assorted misadventures in the South Seas, a minor acting pursuit in England, and a contract sight unseen with a major Hollywood studio (Flynn was signed to WB USA essentially by word of mouth and his role in a WB UK quota film; he didn't need to make a screen test to get the contract)...
...But thus far any hope of breaking into the mainstream looked nil. In THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE his appearance - though dynamic in an otherwise dull film - didn't even require dialogue. His part in DON'T BET ON BLONDES was also rather insignificant. Flynn spent most of his salaried time schmoozing in the Hollywood social circles and was resigned to fill screenspace whenever WB required something pretty.

Two destined for stardom: Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland - 64kb Flynn & de Havilland as Captain Blood & Arabella Bishop - 57kb
Two young stars: Errol Flynn (26) & Olivia de Havilland (19).

It is to the opinion of many however that Flynn's big break was the result of his wife's influence. French actress Lili Damita was well acquainted with director Mike Curtiz, and although her own career seemed to be winding down, she still had a bit of pull. If any, it would certainly explain the ruthless alimony terms which she won when "The Battling Flynns" officially called it quits in '41.

The studio wanted a charming Brit to play Peter Blood, and right there for bit salary was their man. It was felt that the story and setting would carry the film anyway, that a green actor couldn't do any harm, particularly with a few contract staples (Lionel Atwill, Ross Alexander, Guy Kibbee...), a duel (with Basil Rathbone, who was inspired by his role as Levasseur to pursue fencing as a serious sport), and a pretty girl thrown in for good measure. So in went Flynn.

Blood & slaves in the barracks - 70kb
Blood & the slaves plot their escape.

The story is about a former soldier of fortune living in England during the late 1700s. Having taken up a medical practise in favour of a life of peace, Peter Blood is caught aiding a friend wounded in a rebel uprising. Blood is spared a hanging and condemned to serve as a slave on a plantation across the sea in Jamaica. During a raid on the town by Spaniards, the slaves escape, comandeer the Spanish Galleon, and make a name for themselves throughout the Carribean as formidable bucaneers under the sharp leadership of Captain Blood.

Well, it's true: the most powerful asset of this film IS the story and the production. The spirit of Rafael Sabatini's bestselling romance novel remains intact, as do many of the sequences and their corresponding dialogue. But one cannot resist the presence of a young man who carries his role more with adrenaline than dramatic prowess. Flynn's charm and enthusiasm are infectious indeed. The movie has a dreamy look to it which resembles illustrations one would find in such a novel, and Flynn's features possess a classic quality which lend to his success in period and costume films. Further enhanced with a score by Korngold, it's no wonder that CAPTAIN BLOOD earned a nomination for Best Picture.

The film debuted in NYC December 1935 in time for the holiday season (and according to clippings, he and Lili cut out of the premiere screening to take in some clubbing. It brings to mind Flynn expressing a dislike for watching himself on film as told to Earl Conrad in A MEMOIR), and Errol Flynn became an overnight sensation. That distinction quickly spread throughout the world as the film met with success abroad.

An interesting and inevitable change worth noting from the articles of the time and their view of Errol and Lili: throughout 1935, society columns and movie magazines referred to the couple as Lili Damita and her handsome fiance/husband/etc Errol Flynn; after Captain Blood's release, it became Errol Flynn and his wife Lili Damita, with only a few of them making mention of her (waning) career if at all. This didn't sit well with Damita, who resented her husband's stardom, which brought harsh attention to the demise of her own.

Captain Blood astounds Arabella with his return to Port Royal - 45kb
Captain Blood astounds Arabella with his return to Port Royal.

Of course one cannot review this film without mention of Flynn's co-star in CAPTAIN BLOOD, Olivia de Havilland. De Havilland was born of English parents in Tokyo. She and her sister, Joan Fontaine, each set out to follow individual careers on stage and screen. Appearing as Hermina in the touring company of A MIDSUMMERNIGHT'S DREAM, de Havilland was spotted by director Max Reinhardt and asked to reprise the role in the film version. She subsequently starred with Joe E. Brown in a couple of minor comedies before she was cast opposite Flynn to play Arabella Bishop.
CAPTAIN BLOOD did wonders for de Havilland's career as well. She became established as a formidable and respectable actress, and her roles opposite Errol Flynn certainly didn't hurt, even if it did mean having to endure occasional pranks put on by the leading man. 'BLOOD was the first of eight films in which they were to appear together, and their aesthetic compatability won them fans for decades.

'BLOOD is available in all formats of home video internationally. Of course any film buff will recommend the original B+W version over the sickly pastel colorized release. And if you haven't seen CAPTAIN BLOOD, rent it at your earliest convenience!!!

Errol Flynn & Olivia De Havilland
Errol Flynn & Olivia De Havilland

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