On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Errol Flynn in THE SEA HAWK (Warner Brothers 1940)


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Warner Brothers pulled out all the stops for their 1940 epic THE SEA HAWK. There’s dashing Errol Flynn swashbuckling his way across the Silver Screen once again, the proverbial cast of thousands, high seas action, romance, political intrigue, superb special effects, and a spirited score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The only thing missing that could’ve possibly made this movie better is Technicolor, but since Jack and his bros had already spent $1.7 million (equivalent to almost thirty million today) to produce it, why quibble?

Flynn is in fine form as privateer Geoffrey Thorpe, captain of the pirate ship Albatross, in service to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. When they attack and plunder a Spanish ship carrying Ambassador Don Alvarez de Cordoba and his beautiful niece Maria, Captain Thorpe is reprimanded and told to lay off the Spanish. Spain, however, is building up their Armada with world conquest in mind, and…

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Halloween Havoc!: THE SMILING GHOST (Warner Brothers 1941)


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A mysterious killer stalks his prey in an old, dark house! Sound familiar? Sure, the formula has been around since Lon Chaney Sr. first crept his way through 1925’s THE MONSTER, and was perfected in the 1927 horror comedy THE CAT AND THE CANARY. THE SMILING GHOST, a 1941 variation on the venerable theme, doesn’t add anything new to the genre, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion with a solid cast courtesy of the Warner Brothers Stock Company of contract players and a swift 71-minute running time.

Lucky Downing, a somewhat dimwitted chemical engineer heavily in debt to his creditors, answers a newspaper ad for a male willing to do “anything legal’ for a thousand bucks. Rich Mrs. Bentley explains the job is to get engaged to her granddaughter, Elinor Bentley Fairchild, for a month. Smelling easy money, and a way out of the hole, Lucky and his best friend/valet Clarence take a train…

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Rally ‘Round The Flag: Errol Flynn in VIRGINIA CITY (Warner Brothers 1940)


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VIRGINIA CITY is a big, sprawling Western, filled with action, humor, and star quality. It’s the kind of movie they used to show around these parts every afternoon at 4 O’clock on DIALING FOR DOLLARS (George Allen was the local host), helping to spark my interest in classic films past, a flame which still burns bright today, two hours of pure entertainment, with square-jawed Errol Flynn going against square-jawed Randolph Scott backed by a Civil War setting and yet another sweepingly epic Max Steiner score.

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We’re told “only the characters are fictional… The story is true” as we watch Union Captain Kerry Bradford (Flynn) and his two buddies Moose and Marblehead (Errol’s frequent co-stars/offscreen drinking compadres Alan Hale Sr and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams) attempt to tunnel their way out of Libby Prison, aka ‘The Devil’s Warehouse’, when they’re caught by commanding Captain Vance Irby (Scott). He tells them Confederate troops…

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Why I Love THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (Warner Brothers 1938)


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Readers of this blog know CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite movie, but THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is definitely in the Top Ten, maybe even Top Five (I’d have to think about it… sounds like a future post!). The story’s been told on-screen dozens of times, from the silent 1922 Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler to Disney’s 1973 animated version to the recent Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott offering. But it’s this 1938  classic that remains definitive, thanks to a marvelous cast, breathtaking Technicolor, and the greatest cinematic swordfight in history.

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You all know the legend of Robin Hood by now, so no need for a recap. Instead, I’ll go right into what makes this film so great, starting with Errol Flynn as the brave Sir Robin of Locksley. Flynn was at the peak of his career here, after starring in such action-packed hits as CAPTAIN BLOOD   , THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT…

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Happy Birthday Errol Flynn: DESPERATE JOURNEY (Warner Brothers 1942)


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The actor known for his “wicked, wicked ways”, Errol Flynn was born June 20, 1909 in Hobart, Australia. The dashing Flynn skyrocketed to fame with a series of swashbuckling exploits: CAPTAIN BLOOD , THE SEA HAWK, and most notably THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. He was also featured in some of the great Westerns of the era (THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, SANTA FE TRAIL). Like all stalwart screen heroes, during the 1940’s Flynn made a number of wartime propaganda films to boost morale for the masses. One of these was DESPERATE JOURNEY, a totally improbable but highly exciting action yarn from the two-fisted, one-eyed Raoul Walsh, director of such macho fare as THE ROARING TWENTIES, HIGH SIERRA, and WHITE HEAT.

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An RAF bomber squad is sent on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines to take out a train depot. They accomplish the task, but are shot down by Nazi heavy artillery. Forced to…

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The Fabulous Forties #34: This Is The Army (dir by Michael Curtiz)


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The 34th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set is the 1943 musical, This is The Army.

This Is The Army is based on a Broadway musical that was specifically conceived and written by Irving Berlin as a way to boost wartime morale.  The show, which was a collection of patriotic songs and comedic skits, was performed by members of the U.S. Army.  The film version starts with dancer Jerry Jones (George Murphy) being drafted at the start of World War I and putting together an all-army revue called Yip Yip Yaphank.  (Interestingly enough, this was also the name of a real-life show that Irving Berlin put together during World War I.)  The show is a big hit and, when the soldiers in the cast receive their orders to head to France, they literally march off the stage and out the theater.  It’s actually a pretty rousing scene but it’s almost immediately followed by a very sad one, in which we learn that only three members of the cast survived the war.  Jerry Jones is shot in the leg and when he returns home, the former dancer now walks with a cane.

Twenty-five years later, another world war has broken out.  Jerry’s son, Johnny (Ronald Reagan), has joined the army.  Johnny is ordered to put together another revue, in the style of Yip Yip Yaphank.  At first, Johnny is reluctant but orders are orders.  Soon, Johnny and the cast of This Is The Army are touring the U.S. and even performing in front of President Roosevelt (played by Jack Young, though, from a historical perspective, wouldn’t it be neat if President Roosevelt had appeared as himself in a film with Ronald Reagan?).  Along the way, Eileen (Joan Leslie) tries to convince Johnny to marry her even though Johnny wants to wait until the war is over.

It’s really not much of a plot but then again, the film is about showcasing the musical performances.  The soldiers sing.  The soldiers dance.  The soldiers tell jokes and imitate people who were famous in 1943.  There are several scenes that attempt to wring laughs from soldiers dressed up like women.  What’s interesting is that, at a time when the army was still segregated, the performances in This Is The Army feature both white and black soldiers.  Irving Berlin apparently demanded that black soldiers be allowed to appear in both the stage show and the film and, as a result, the unit that performed This Is The Army was, for a time, the only integrated unit in the U.S. Army.

Of course, that makes it even odder that there’s an extended sequence in which white soldiers perform while wearing blackface and standing on a set that’s been designed to resemble a pre-Civil War plantation.  It’s a scene that pops out of nowhere and then it keeps going and going and going and I could only stare at the screen in shocked horror as it played out.  It’s an odd contradiction that the same Irving Berlin who demanded that black soldiers be honored on stage and screen was also apparently the same Irving Berlin was put a minstrel show sketch into the middle of This Is The Army. 

Interestingly enough, George Murphy later retired from acting and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1964.  Murphy’s success inspired his co-star, Ronald Reagan, to run for governor.  If Murphy had never been a senator, Reagan would probably never have been a president.  Both Reagan and Murphy give likable performances in This Is The Army and it’s easy to see how that likability, while it may not have often translated into great acting, did eventually lead to political success.

This Is The Army is a time capsule film, one that is mostly interesting as a view into the psyche of 1940s America.  The humor is often corny and the storyline is predictable but there’s also a very sad subtext to the film.  Since both the film and the stage show were performed by actual enlisted men, you watch with the knowledge that some of the men singing and joking on stage won’t return from the war.  Often times, during the performances, we see random people in the audience crying as they realize the same thing.  Even in an otherwise light-hearted film, the sobering realities of life during wartime are right beneath the surface.

Cleaning Out The DVR #38: It Happened One Night (dir by Frank Capra)


For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!!  Will she make it?  Well, it depends on whether or not she can finish the review below!)

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Before I talk too much about the 1934 film It Happened One Night, I want to tell a story about legs.

I’ve always been insecure about having a slightly large nose and once, when I was 17 years old, I was giving my mom a hard time about the fact that I had basically inherited it from her.  I was going on and on and being fairly obnoxious about it.  (Yes, believe it or not, I can occasionally be obnoxious…)

Finally, my mom held up her hand and said, “Yes, you got your nose from me but you also got my legs so stop crying!”

And you know what?  I glanced down at my legs and I realized that she was right and that made me feel a lot better.  Ever since then, I’ve taken a lot of pride in having a good pair of legs.

Now, you may be asking yourself what that has to do with It Happened One Night.  Well, It Happened One Night is one of the ultimate “good legs” movies.  That’s because It Happened One Night features the famous scene in which Claudette Colbert teaches Clark Gable the proper way to hitchhike.  (If I ever take up hitchhiking, I’m planning on using the same technique.)

That’s the scene that It Happened One Night is justifiably famous for.  However, It Happened One Night is more than just a film about hitchhiking.

It’s also a romance, one that features Claudette Colbert at her wackiest and Clark Gable at his sexiest.  Reportedly, the sell of undershirts plummeted after Clark Gable took off his shirt and revealed that he wasn’t wearing one.

It was one of the first road movies and it was such a success that it remains influential to this very day.  Any time you watch a movie that features two seemingly different characters getting to know each other on a road trip, you’re watching a movie that exists because of It Happened One Night.  (And yes, that includes Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.)  

Frank Capra won his first Oscar for directing this film and It Happened One Night remains one of his most likable and least preachy films.  Just compare the unpretentious, down-to-Earth style of It Happened One Night to Meet John Doe.

Perhaps most importantly, It Happened One Night was the first comedy to win the Oscar for best picture.  It Happened One Night is a film that announces that a film doesn’t have to be a self-serious, pretentious epic to be great. Before the victory of It Happened One Night, the top prize was exclusively reserved for films like Cimarron and Calvalcade.  (Seriously, just try watching some of those early winners today.)  It Happened One Night‘s Oscar victory was a victory for the future of entertainment.

(By the way, as I sit here typing up this review, I keep accidentally typing It’s A Wonderful Life instead of It Happened One Night.  That’s the power of Frank Capra.)

It Happened One Night tells the story of  Pete Warne (Clark Gable).  Pete is an out-of-work reporter.  Though he may be down on his luck, he’s still confident and lovably cocky in that way that only Clark Gable could be.  While riding on a bus from Florida to New York, Pete recognizes one of his fellow passengers as Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), an heiress who has recently eloped with a buffoonish big game hunter named King Westley (Jameson Thomas).  Ellie’s father wants to get the marriage annulled and has people all over the country searching for his daughter.  Pete agrees not to call Ellie’s father if Ellie will agree to give him an exclusive story when she meets up with Westley in New York.

For the rest of the film, we follow Pete and Ellie as they cross the United States, spending awkward nights in motel rooms, getting kicked off of buses, and hitchhiking.  Ellie gives lessons on how to get a car to stop.  Pete delivers a long monologue on the proper way to undress before going to bed.  Along the way, Pete and Ellie fall in love.  It also becomes obvious that Ellie’s father is right about Westley only marrying her for her money.

They also meet a large cast of increasingly eccentric characters.  Whether they’re dealing with the passengers on the bus or the cranky people staying at a rest stop or a motorist who won’t stop singing, Pete and Ellie do noy meet anyone who doesn’t have at least one odd quirk.  Like many classic screwball comedies, It Happened One Night takes place in a world where everyone — from a bus driver to a desk clerk to a group of women waiting to use a shower at a rest stop — has something to say about everything.  Some of the film’s funniest moments come from watching the normally smooth Pete have to deal with the increasingly crazy world in which he’s found himself.

(For her part, Ellie is at her happiest when things are at their strangest.  Ellie’s the best.)

The other great moments come from simply watching Gable and Colbert interact.  They have an amazing chemistry and it comes through in their performances.  It’d odd to read that apparently neither Gable nor Colbert were happy to be cast in It Happened One Night because their performances are so much fun to watch.  A love story only works if you love the characters and the love story in It Happened One Night definitely works.

As I stated above, It Happened One Night was the first comedy to win Best Picture.  Beyond that, it was also the first movie to win all of the top 5 Oscars: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay.  (Those were also the only 5 nominations that It Happened One Night received.)  For once, the Academy got it right.  It Happened One Night remains a delightful film.

(Oh my God, y’all, I did it!  That’s 38 films reviewed in 10 days and my DVR now has space to record all sorts of things!  And making it all the better is that I finished this project by reviewing a truly wonderful comedy like It Happened One Night!)