- Warner Home Video’s upcoming Errol Flynn DVD box set comprises five of the actor’s best-known films: Captain Blood, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk, and They Died with Their Boots On – four of which costarring Olivia de Havilland.
- Also included is the TCM documentary The Adventures of Errol Flynn, featuring interviews with, among others, Olivia de Havilland, Joanne Woodward, Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, and Flynn’s actress-widow Patrice Wymore.
Errol Flynn DVD box set ‘The Signature Collection’ includes 5 of the Warner Bros. star’s best-known films
Alongside 20th Century Fox’s Tyrone Power, Warner Bros.’ Errol Flynn, usually in period garb, was the personification of gutsy, dashing masculinity during Hollywood’s studio era. Fans of swashbuckling and Old West heroes should thus be thrilled that Warner Home Video is releasing a six-disc Errol Flynn DVD box set – “Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection” – on April 19 in the United States and Canada.
The set contains five Flynn movies that came out during the first third of his tenure as a Warner contract star, in addition to several featurettes pertaining to each of the included titles and Turner Classic Movies’ documentary feature The Adventures of Errol Flynn.
The five WB movies, all period pieces – three of them set at least partly in England; two in the Old American West – are the following:
- Captain Blood (1935).
- Dodge City (1939).
- The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).
- The Sea Hawk (1940).
- They Died with Their Boots On (1941).
The Sea Hawk is the only entry that does not costar Olivia de Havilland; Brenda Marshall plays Flynn’s pretty, brunette romantic interest.
Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex are the only two color entries.
Who cares about acting ability or engrossing narratives?
Even though the Tasmanian-born Errol Flynn (on June 20, 1909, in Hobart) rarely gave what could be considered an effective dramatic or comedic performance, he was so fantastic to behold that lack of acting ability – or perhaps any personal interest in delivering a well-rounded characterization – was only the most minor of inconveniences.
As for his Warner Bros. star vehicles, they’re not necessarily what one would call masterpieces in their respective genres – with Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) being a notable exception.
Yet each of them is worth watching for, to name one great reason, the presence of Errol Flynn himself: cocky, gallant, sensual, debonair, fearless, graceful, romantic, handsome. And, admittedly, at times downright amateurish, especially in his portrayals of “complicated men.”
Just in case Flynn’s way with a smile or a sword isn’t enough for you, his Warner movies boast first-rate production values and some of the studio’s top acting talent. Along with Olivia de Havilland and Brenda Marshall, in this Errol Flynn DVD box set you’ll find, to name a few: Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, James Stephenson, and Frank McHugh.
Below is a brief overview of each title included in the “Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection.”
Errol Flynn DVD box set movies
Based on Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 novel previously filmed with J. Warren Kerrigan in the silent era, Michael Curtiz’s Captain Blood, originally intended for Robert Donat, catapulted Warners’ little-known, 26-year-old Australian import Errol Flynn to international stardom.
Prior to landing the coveted role of the 17th-century Irish doctor who, through assorted twists of fate, becomes a dreaded West Indies pirate, Flynn had been at the studio for less than a year.
A solid box office and critical hit that showcased him as the new and improved Douglas Fairbanks, Captain Blood also marked Flynn’s first pairing with Olivia de Havilland, who would be back as his leading lady seven more times in the ensuing six years.
Captain Blood turned out to be the first of only two Errol Flynn movies to receive a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. The other one was The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Errol Flynn’s first Western and his second color film (following the previous year’s The Adventures of Robin Hood), Dodge City was a sizable box office hit ($1.7 million in rentals) in the United States, helping to propel the actor to the no. 8 spot on the Quigley Publishing Company’s (however dubious) list of top domestic box office draws – Flynn’s only time among the Top Ten. (He was listed among the top 25 from 1938–1943, and again in 1946.)
Looking great in color, Flynn stars as an Irish cowboy who brings law, order, and glamour to the titular Kansas town. De Havilland plays his romantic interest, but the film’s most memorable female role belongs to saloon singer – and soon-to-be major Warners star – Ann Sheridan. (Flynn and Sheridan would be reunited in Lewis Milestone’s 1943 World War II drama Edge of Darkness and in Raoul Walsh’s 1948 Western Silver River.)
Of note, this lush Hal B. Wallis production (cinematography by Sol Polito, music by Max Steiner, etc.) was one of a number of big-budget Westerns – Union Pacific, Destry Rides Again, Jesse James, Stagecoach, Arizona, The Westerner, Santa Fe Trail, The Return of Frank James – to come out in 1939 and 1940. With few exceptions (e.g., Annie Oakley, The Plainsman, Wells Fargo), the genre had for years been relegated to B flicks.
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
The other color movie included in the Errol Flynn DVD box set, Michael Curtiz’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, from Maxwell Anderson’s 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen, is another sumptuous Warner Bros. production (cinematography by Sol Polito, music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, costumes by Orry-Kelly, etc.) – but one without any of the, however juvenile, joie de vivre found in Curtiz’s Captain Blood and Dodge City.
Chances are that the making of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex was quite a bit more lively than what we get to see on screen, as Bette Davis – cast as Queen Elizabeth I – didn’t care for her costar, whom she felt wasn’t up to the task of bringing to life the doomed Earl of Essex.
Davis, who had been partnered with Flynn the previous year in Anatole Litvak’s The Sisters, would play Elizabeth I once again in Henry Koster’s The Virgin Queen (1955), opposite Richard Todd as Sir Walter Raleigh.
The Sea Hawk
The ninth Errol Flynn-Michael Curtiz collaboration (tenth if you include The Case of the Curious Bride, 1935, in which Flynn has a minor role), The Sea Hawk attaches the title of Rafael Sabatini’s 1915 novel, previously filmed with Milton Sills in the silent era, to a Francis Drake-inspired storyline concocted by Seton I. Miller and later reworked by Howard Koch.
Notwithstanding its 16th-century setting (that includes some refurbished The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex sets), The Sea Hawk has its spirit in the 20th century, with King Philip II as the Adolf Hitler-like king of Spain, bent on conquering the whole wide world. Sort of like what England would do its best to achieve two or three centuries later, but – with Ireland as a significant exception – mostly far away from Europe, thus making its exploitation of other nations not only acceptable but categorically inspirational.
The only title in the Errol Flynn DVD box set not to costar Olivia de Havilland, The Sea Hawk features relative newcomer Brenda Marshall (soon to become William Holden’s wife) as Flynn’s love interest, Doña María. According to several sources, following Gone with the Wind de Havilland wanted meatier roles at her home studio; hence Marshall’s casting in the decorative part.
Also in the film: Claude Rains, Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, and British import Flora Robson as a righteous Queen Elizabeth I, who, hypocrisy of hypocrisies, was a budding imperialist from bald head to toe.
They Died with Their Boots On
Gone with the Wind or no, Olivia de Havilland would be cast as Errol Flynn’s pretty paramour in two Westerns of the early 1940s: Michael Curtiz’s Santa Fe Trail and Raoul Walsh’s curiously titled They Died with Their Boots On – as mentioned further up, the only Errol Flynn DVD box set entry not directed by Curtiz.
One of Flynn’s weakest star vehicles during his years at Warner Bros., They Died with Their Boots On is a pile of Old West clichés mixed with some dishonest rewriting of history. As his usual dapper self, Flynn plays General Armstrong Custer, a brave and honorable soldier who dies at the Battle of the Little Bighorn because … he’s the victim of greedy businessman Arthur Kennedy and crooked politicians who, behind his back, plan on stealing land promised to the Lakota Sioux tribe.
An indisputable blockbuster – $4 million in worldwide rentals* – They Died with Their Boots On marked the eighth and final time Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland worked together.†
* As World War II was raging at the time, it’s unclear when the worldwide total ($1.9 million domestically; $2.1 million internationally) was tallied.
† In 1943, Flynn and de Havilland would both be seen in Warners’ all-star, vaudeville-like hit Thank Your Lucky Stars – but in different skits.
The Adventures of Errol Flynn
The final title in Warner Home Video’s Errol Flynn DVD box set is Turner Classic Movies’ David Heeley-directed 2005 documentary The Adventures of Errol Flynn.
Narrated by Ian Holm (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for Chariots of Fire, 1981), the documentary features interviews with, among others:
- Actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joanne Woodward.
- Actress and Errol Flynn widow Patrice Wymore, Flynn’s leading lady in Rocky Mountain and second female lead in King’s Rhapsody.
- Actors Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds.
- Director Vincent Sherman, who worked with Flynn on Adventures of Don Juan.
- Director and cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who directed Flynn in The Story of William Tell, and shot two Flynn vehicles, Crossed Swords and The Master of Ballantrae.
- Film historian Rudy Behlmer.
- Errol Flynn’s daughter Deirdre Flynn.
Errol Flynn died at age 50 in October 1959, two years after he delivered a John Barrymore-esque career-peak performance in a supporting role in Henry King’s The Sun Also Rises (1957), starring Flynn’s fellow 1940s swashbuckler Tyrone Power.
Now, don’t believe any of those Errol Flynn-Tyrone Power romance stories.
“Errol Flynn DVD box set” notes
At one point, Behlmer notes that besides Olivia de Havilland and Brenda Marshall, also considered for the role of Doña María were Andrea Leeds, Jane Bryan, Ida Lupino, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Margaret Lockwood.
In addition, up-and-coming Warners contract player Dennis Morgan was considered for the film’s male lead.
“Errol Flynn DVD box set” endnotes
Box office information for the Errol Flynn DVD box set titles Dodge City and They Died with Their Boots On via Mark H. Glancy’s article “Warner Bros Film Grosses, 1921–51: The William Schaefer Ledger,” found in the March 1995 issue of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.
Warner Home Home Entertainment website.
Images of the Errol Flynn DVD box set cover, Olivia de Havilland and Flynn in Captain Blood, and Flynn in The Sea Hawk: Warner Bros.
“Errol Flynn DVD Box Set: 5 ‘Signature Collection’ Classics” last updated in December 2021.