I must have been about 6 years old when I saw my first Errol Flynn movie. Captain Blood I think it was. Action, the high seas, pirates… what better entertainment for a young boy on a rainy day. There he was, a powerful man whose character seemed to flow with his every word. You could depend on him. Trust his actions. He was the type that if you were in a fix, he’d be right beside you to even the odds. Well, at least it seemed that way to me.
Movies I experienced featuring Errol Flynn, were character forming for me. As a lad I could only see the valiant actions in films like Adventures of Robin Hood, Sante Fe Trail, and Desperate Journey. His fair-play, honesty, and stand-for-the-regular-guy in films like They Died With Their Boots On, Objective Burma, and Gentleman Jim always filled me with the desire to be just like him!
He was my picture of the “Good Guy”. Imagine experiencing a film where the decline of a personal hero is evident. So evident that you question whether or not the actor is who you think he is. That was a sad day.
I thought, wow, I’ve never heard of this movie. What a break I thought! Finally, seeing a film starring one of my heroes that I’d never had the opportunity to see. It had a funny look to it. It was obviously a lower budget than anything I had ever experienced and, Errol just looked worn out. He exuded some of the usual charm and expressions, but without any of the enthusiasm I associated with him. The hero wasn’t really playing the role of a hero. He really wasn’t playing any identifiable role. The film just deflated me. I really had to find out what had happened to my hero.
While looking into the career of Flynn, I began to see the human side of a real rise and fall of one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. His fame wasn’t really as long as I had imagined. Frankly, it was rather short lived. It began suddenly with his on-screen starring debut in Captain Blood 1935. His career spanned only 24 years. By the time Flynn played in The Sun Also Rises, you could see the evidence of decline in both his films and his health. Only three films followed, and let’s just say that his third and final film, Cuban Rebel Girls, should not be his epitaph.
Flynn and a partner owned a theater in Cuba. He was out of money, not in demand as an actor, and was under obligation to do another film. In Cuba, Flynn was sympathetic to Castro in his revolution to overthrow the then ruling powers. Flynn had shot a lot of footage of parades and interviews with the rebels and decided he could take this footage and use it around a screenplay for the obligatory film he needed to produce.
Cuban Rebel Girls features Flynn as a reporter covering the Revolution. He becomes involved with the rebels and particularly the young women and their involvement in the rebel efforts. The footage is done almost like a documentary. It had no elaborate sets and no “big name” actors, only locals, including and starring his now 17 year old girl friend. Did I say decline? To put it in a nutshell, this is not a good Errol Flynn movie. It’s definitely not how you should remember Errol Flynn’s career. The film, however, is an opportunity to see a fallen film star end an amazing film career using a truly historic event, the real revolution in Cuba. It will complete the circle and give you an overview of the legend’s rise and fall.
As a footnote, Flynn died October 14, 1959 at age 50…before the film released.