Errol Flynn – by George Hurrell 1938
The centennial of Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn’s birth is upon us, dear readers. There will be those benighted types who are indifferent to the occasion. There will be others who feel, wrongly, that today is best commemorated by seeing The Adventures of Robin Hood. And still others, misguided, but with inner compasses not yet completely demagnetized, who will gather together to sip rosé and watch Captain Blood.
But not us. Unlike Nietzsche, we understand that aesthetic arguments ultimately collapse into ethical ones and not vice versa, at least where Errol Flynn is concerned. That there are right choices and wrong ones, and that it isn’t all just a matter of taste. There is no godless moral vacuum for us. For us, God still moves over the face of the waters, and Spanish galleons beware!
Beware…The Sea Hawk!
OK, I’ll admit it. Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood are pretty great, too. So is The Black Swan, starring Tyrone Powers. And so is Peter Weir’s Master and Commander, for that matter. But The Sea Hawk is unquestionably my favorite swashbuckler movie—which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s my favorite movie, but the distinction is so small it changes position whenever you try to observe it.
Because of their many similarities, as a child of the 1970’s and 80’s I am tempted to describe The Sea Hawk as the Star Wars of its era. But fuck that. Star Wars is The Sea Hawk of its era. Borges is right that an artist creates his own precursors, but just because George Lucas asked John Williams to model his music after Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s classic score doesn’t mean we should forget which is the cart and which the mule.
I’m sure the scholars of the 501st can identify all the other influences, direct and indirect, the one film had upon the other. I will say that Flynn’s Geoffrey Thorpe bears a striking resemblance to both Han Solo AND Luke Skywalker (which makes sense when you think about it, inasmuch as one Harrison Ford plus one Mark Hamill almost equals one Errol Flynn). He even has a hyperactive monkey for an R2-D2 (or pygmy Chewbacca).
Dashing, athletic, funny—Flynn is in top form here. So is Claude Rains, who plays the conniving villain. Michael Curtiz was peaking too, on the verge of directing Casablanca. Everything about the movie works. The script is witty. The plot clever. The action raucous. The music rousing. If The Sea Hawk had only co-starred Olivia de Havilland rather than Brenda Marshall it would be like the titular film in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: people would watch it until they starved to death.
As it is, after seeing the movie again recently I was so taken with fight scenes like the following one that I promptly signed up for eight weeks of fencing instruction—a course which culminated in me (accidentally!) stabbing my fiancée in the larynx.
(She’s fine, by the way.)
So come on, Coilhouse readers. We all know the tales of Errol Flynn’s excesses (the man had his own chapter in Hollywood Babylon, after all). We all know how he wound up: flabby, dissolute, and dead of a heart attack at fifty. But for his hundredth birthday, let’s choose to remember him at his acme: swinging from ship to ship with a sabre in his fist, England on his lips, and a sparkle in his eye. There has never been a worthier object of matinee idolatry.