Archive for the ‘Errol Flynn’ Category

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, Van Heflin, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Ward Bond

Warner Bros. had a real knack for stomping all over American history in the name of making a good movie. Santa Fe Trail (1940) is a prime example.

Historic figures like “Jeb” Stuart (Errol Flynn), John Brown (Raymond Massey), George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan), Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis pop in and out of this thing, bumping into each other in very non-actual ways. But none of that matters, since the performances and direction are great, and the whole thing runs at about a mile a minute.

This was the seventh of Flynn’s pictures with Olivia de Havilland. They’d do only one more together Raoul Walsh’s They Died With Their Boots On (1941), with Flynn playing George Armstrong Custer, who Reagan plays in this one. Raymond Massey is terrific as John Brown — who cares about the realities of it.

It’ll be great to see Santa Fe Trail in high definition after its years in public domain VHS/DVD hell. Highly recommended.

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This morning, I saw Chubby Johnson in the “Gunpowder Joe” (1953) episode of The Lone Ranger. Seemed like time to make him Character Actor Of The Day.

He was born Charles Rutledge Johnson in 1903, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He worked as a journalist and radio announcer for years, and he was in his 40s when he did his first film, Abilene Town (1946) with Randolph Scott. He kept both careers going for a while. 

Around the time of the underrated Rocky Mountain (1950), Errol Flynn’s last Western, Chubby decided to concentrate on the movies. He’d go on to make more than 80 pictures.

L-R: Myron Healey, Claudia Barrett, Allan “Rocky” Lane and Chubby Johnson in Republic’s Night Riders Of Montana (1951).

Republic needed a replacement for sidekick Eddy Waller in the Rocky Lane series. Chubby rode alongside Allan Lane for most of 1951 and ’52.

L-R: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Chubby Johnson and Stepin Fetchit in Anthony Mann’s Bend Of The River (1952).

Chubby’s in lots of great stuff. High Noon (1952), Anthony Mann’s Bend Of The River (1952) and The Far Country (1954), Calamity Jane (1953) with Doris Day, Gunsmoke (1953, with Audie Murphy), Law And Order (1953), Cattle Queen Of Montana (1954), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) and on and on.

On TV, Chubby was a regular in Sky King the Rex Allen series Frontier Doctor, and he guested on shows like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Thriller, Death Valley Days, Sugarfoot, The Andy Griffith Show, Temple Houston, Dennis The Menace and Maverick. He stayed plenty busy.

His last pictures were Support Your Local Sheriff! and Sam Whiskey in 1969. He passed away in 1974.

With Howard Keell and Doris Day on the set of Calamity Jane (1953).

Chubby could make the most of a small part, and really shine when given something bigger, as in Bend Of The River and Calamity Jane. Another one of those guys who gives a picture a lift when he turns up.

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Directed by Raoul Walsh
Starring Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Thomas Mitchell, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Monte Blue

Silver River (1948), an Errol Flynn Western directed by Raoul Walsh, is finally making its way to DVD from Warner Archive. Watch for it in January.

Production was marked by the liquored-up antics of both Flynn and his leading lady, Ann Sheridan. Probably due to those antics, this was the last of eight pictures Flynn and Walsh made together (if you haven’t seen their Objective, Burma!, do it now!). In spite of the delays and frustrations, Flynn turned in a solid, complex performance — the effects of his hard living might have made him a better Western star.

2016 has been a great year for classic Westerns on DVD and Blu-Ray. 2017’s getting off to a great start, too. Thank you, Warner Archive!

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Directed by Ray Enright
Starring Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall

Warner Archive is re-issuing some of the Errol Flynn Westerns that once made up a really terrific DVD set. Virginia City (1940), San Antonio (1945), Montana (1950) and Rocky Mountain (1950) will be available, singly, in January.

Montana co-stars Alexis Smith, was directed by Ray Enright and shot by Karl Freund — they’d recently completed the Joel McCrea picture South Of Saint Louis (1949).

Flynn, Smith and the great S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall had also appeared together in San Antonio (1945), which takes Flynn to The Alamo.


Rocky Mountain (1950), Flynn’s last Western, gets my vote for his best cowboy picture. It’s really something else.

Virginia City (1940) has a stellar cast that includes Randolph Scott and Humphrey Bogart (as a Mexican bandit).

It’s good to know these are readily available again for folks who missed them the first time around. I’d love to see some of these crop up on Blu-Ray, too!

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D Jones Strawberry Roan

Dick Jones
(February 25, 1927 – July 7, 2014)

Dick Jones passed away this week. He’ll be remembered by most as the voice of Pinocchio (1940). But Westerns fans, we’ll remember Buffalo Bill, Jr. and The Range Rider on TV. And, of course, a string of appearances in Gene Autry movies and his TV show. He’s seen above with Gene in The Strawberry Roan (1948).

He had a great role in the underrated Errol Flynn Western Rocky Mountain (1950).


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Errol Flynn Westerns are a strange breed. Maybe the first thing you notice is the artificial-ness — Flynn’s displaced accent (hell, his displaced everything), the supersaturated Technicolor of some of them, Humphrey Bogart’s Mexican bandito in Virginia City (1940) and the earnest adventurousness of them all. They’re a bit on the surreal side, almost The Cowboy Of Oz.

They can also seem a little like watching the same movie over and over. The plots — or plot, since they all seem so similar — play like leftovers from Monogram or Mascot with more money thrown at them. And then there are the casts, the same character actors yanked from the Warner Bros. roster of contract players, seemingly at random. (Don’t take any of this as a complaint.)

The Flynn Westerns work pretty much like this: if you like, say, Montana, chances are you’ll like the others. (I do.) Then you get to Rocky Mountain, Flynn’s eighth and last Western. Suddenly, things are very different.

That difference isn’t just what you see on the screen. Hardly. Both the Hollywood and Errol Flynn of 1950 were quite different from just a few shorts years before. For one thing, the studio system was breaking down, and cost-savings were the order of the day. Out went Technicolor, large casts and lavish sets. Next, Flynn wasn’t the dashing young actor of old. His years of hard living were catching up with him. He’d be dead in less than a decade.

Of course, the Western was changing, too.

You can feel these harsh realities, this change, in almost every frame of Rocky Mountain, a grim, gritty little picture that stands as a clear, early example of what we now think of as a Fifties Western. They may have trimmed the budget, but they sure  didn’t scrimp when it came to fatalism. It absolutely oozes from this film.

It’s March of 1865. The Civil War is nearing its end, and the Confederacy needs a miracle. The weary Lafe Barstow (Flynn) has brought his men all the way to California in an effort to link up with insurrectionists, assemble a band of guerillas, and hopefully turn the tide of the war. However, this far West, they end up facing an enemy even more formidable than the Yankees: the Shoshones.

Flynn and his men come to the aid of a stagecoach being chased by a Shoshone raiding party, a gallant act that will eventually seal their fate. The lone passenger turns out to be Johanna Carter (Patrice Wymore), fiancé of a Union lieutenant. Protecting the woman compromises their mission, and puts them in conflict with both the Shoshones and the Union soldiers looking for the missing stage.

The bulk of the film works as a tense character study, as the Confederate guerillas and Wymore wait for the showdown they know is coming, against whichever enemy finds them first. The climactic scene, as the men give each other those resigned looks, their final goodbyes, is reminiscent of what would follow in The Wild Bunch (1969). They know they’re not riding away from this one. As they turn to face their foe (I’m not gonna spoil things by saying who), Flynn has a great line: “They’ve seen our backs. Let’s show ‘em our faces!”

The action takes place on the mountain of the title. There’s not a single interior in the entire film. Filmed outside Gallup, New Mexico, the terrain gives the picture production values far beyond its slim budget. (When God’s your set decorator, who needs a budget?)

The vistas are striking, largely thanks to director of photography Ted McCord. A real veteran, who started out with Silent Westerns, McCord excelled at outdoor shooting, with a career that spanned everything from Ken Maynard riding into the sunset to Julie Andrews coming over the hill in The Sound Of Music (1965), certainly one of the most-revered exterior shots in filmdom.

William Keighley spent the bulk of his Hollywood career as a contract director at Warner Bros. His list of 30s credits includes some of the studios best films: “G” Men (1935), Bullets Or Ballots (1936) and The Prince And The Pauper (1937). He was replaced by Michael Curtiz halfway through Flynn’s The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) — with that one, there’s still some debate about how much of Keighley’s work we’re looking at.

More good movies preceded World War II — Brother Rat (1938), for instance. When the war ended, Keighley found himself at RKO. An excellent film noir, The Street With No Name (1948), came from that period. Then he was back at Warner Bros. for Rocky Mountain. A couple more pictures followed, including The Master Of Ballantrae (1953), which would also turn out to be Flynn’s final swashbuckler and Keighley’s last picture before retiring to Paris. His assured work on Rocky Mountain keeps things moving and tension mounting.

While it was Flynn’s last Western, Rocky Mountain provided a couple guys with their firsts — Slim Pickens and Sheb Wooley. According to Wooley (in a Western Clippings interview), “We were down in New Mexico on location, and Flynn said, ‘I know you’re new at this, and I’ve been around about 15 years, so if you want to ask me anything or run lines or whatever, we’ll work on it at night if you want.’ But I never could catch the time when we were both sober enough to work on it.”

Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, a frequent Flynn costar, was also on hand. But what really generated buzz around Rocky Mountain was leading lady Patrice Wymore. She was 21, working on her second picture and engaged to Broadway producer Sammy Lambert. Flynn was 40 and engaged to a Rumanian princess, Irene Ghika. Both of those romances went by the wayside, and Flynn and Wymore were married shortly before the picture opened, which had to have made things easy for Rocky Mountain’s publicity people. And though they were separated, Patrice was Mrs. Errol Flynn when he died in 1959.

Rocky Mountain is a good picture. It’s got a tough performance from Flynn — very different from his other Westerns, and turning his hardened looks into a benefit. It’s well written by Winston Miller (My Darling Clementine), from a story by Alan LeMay (The Searchers). It’s as much character piece as it is a cowboy picture, giving its cast plenty to work with.

And it stands in marked contrast to something like San Antonio (1945), hinting at just where the Western was heading over the next 10 years.


Rocky Mountain is one of four Flynn Westerns (he made eight) lavishly presented in the Errol Flynn Westerns Collection. The other three are Virginia City (1940), San Antonio (1945) and Montana (1950). Raoul Walsh’s Silver River (1948, their last picture together) is the only Flynn cowboy movie not on DVD. You can watch it here, however — and I recommend that you do.

UPDATE 11/29/16: Rocky Mountain will be available as a single disc in January 2017 from Warner Archive.

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