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Antonio Banderas in “The Mask of Zorro”

MV5BOTk5MTM0ODI0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDc0MTI3._V1_SX640_SY720_When I was growing up, swashbucklers were the men to admire among my circle of family and friends. Especially Errol Flynn and Orlando Bloom. They were the beautiful, athletic, pretty-faced charmers of choice and because I was young and ornery, I remained impervious to their charms and teased mercilessly about it. I was not going to be taken in by a pretty face. I was steadfast. I was proud of it.

But I did have a secret crush. Actually, it wasn’t really that secret, but somehow I managed to underplay it in comparison with everyone else’s crushes.

(Actually, I have always thought Errol Flynn was a man of distinct charm and handsomeness, but it took a movie other than Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood to make me admit it – I didn’t like his longish hair in those two movies.)

I wasn’t even a fan of swashbucklers. I was more of a BBC/Masterpiece Theatre kind of gal (which might point to another not-so-secret crush on Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy). Long miniseries were my thing. Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens. Literary stuff. Talky stuff. Not muscular, roguish, sweaty action heroes.

But I saw The Mask of Zorro and I had to admit that I liked the movie. I seemed to be watching it quite often and I had to admit that Antonio Banderas was a large reason for that. He was awfully handsome, but he was more than that. He had a goofy charm as Alejandro Murrieta. He begins as an uncouth bandit, bumbling, bull-in-the-china-shop, until Anthony Hopkins takes him under his wing and gives him a make-over in a gender-reversed Pygmalion/Cinderella story twist and turns him into a gentlemen. Alejandro even gets to go to a ball of sorts and dance with Catherine Zeta-Jones. By the end, he can out-swashbuckle anyone.

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It’s not a traditional Zorro story. It’s channeling serial tropes and traditions. Revenge, secret identities, make-overs, good-old-fashioned sword fights, romance, children who don’t know who there parents are. Actually, the more I think of it the more it seems clear to me how much this film owes to Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

But I like Alejandro so much better than I ever liked the Count, who was often an implacable man in the novel, good at everything and very nearly a demi-god. He’s so perfect and so convinced of the righteousness of his mission that he’s irritating. Not Alejandro.

He’s not infallible, he has his awkward moments, he jumps the gun often, he’s not an aristocrat born to the graces of his position (like Anthony Hopkins’ Zorro). He has some ridiculously maladroit moments. He’s essentially a regular guy being beaten down by the authorities. Becoming Zorro gives him power to fight back. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, he is able to engage his enemy at their level and defeat them at their own game, but he’s doesn’t lose his humanity in the process.

He also looks pretty gorgeous while he does it.

This post was written as part of The Reel Infatuation Blogathon. Be sure to look up the rest of the posts for Days 1, 2, 3 and look out for more updates this week. Many, many thanks to Font & Frock and Silver Screenings for hosting!

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Posted by on June 16, 2016 in Movies

 

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That Forsyte Woman (1949)

1971788276a3b54f7ddf938226e9a16fI’ve been going through a small Greer Garson movie phase and was intrigued by the cast of That Forsyte Woman, especially by the casting of Errol Flynn as a character without a scrap of a sense of humor. Based on the first third of John Galsworthy’s renown Forsyte Saga, which was published in 1922, the film was not well-received when it was released in 1949 and has since been overshadowed by two BBC mini-series that by all accounts are excellent and faithful adaptations.

The novel follows the fortunes of the wealthy Forsyte family, but the movie is focused specifically on Irene Forsyte (Greer Garson) and her relationship with three men – two of which are members of the Forsyte family. She is an impoverished lady who teaches piano and has caught the eye of Soames Forsyte (Errol Flynn). He courts her and repeatedly proposes, always to be refused. But Soames is not a man who gives up easily. His uncle teases him about how, when he sees something he likes, he has to posses it and will pay anything to do so. Finally after some machinations Irene consents to be his wife, somewhat against her better judgment.

But Soames proves to be an possessive husband. He designs her dresses, is convinced she doesn’t love him and accuses her of forgetting their anniversary even when she hasn’t. He feels that he can’t really get close to her, which is hardly surprising given his behavior. Irene seems like she’s trying, but she doesn’t love him.

She has, however, managed to make friends with a few members of his family, like Soames’ uncle Jolyon (Harry Danvenport) and niece, June (Janet Leigh). Irene has also met June’s father, the younger Jolyon Forsyte (Walter Pidgeon). He is the black sheep of the family, cast out when he ran off with his child’s nurse and not allowed to see his daughter ever since. He’s a painter, clearly in love with Irene and to see his daughter again.

Greer_Garson_in_That_Forsyte_Woman_2June, meanwhile, has fallen in love with a rebellious architect who mistrusts most everything the Forsyte’s stand for. But Philip Bosiney (Robert Young), despite becoming engaged to June, soon falls for Irene (she’s got practically the whole male cast chasing after her at this point). She’s hesitant to get involved and hurt June, but he reminds her of someone she once loved who was likewise rebellious and full of life.

This movie does not usually receive much praise, but I must confess that I was definitely not bored and even enjoyed it quite a bit…even if it is a super-serious melodrama. Perhaps it was the cast. Perhaps after I read the book or see the miniseries I will like it less. But the costumes are lovely, the people are lovely.

I think partially it was Errol Flynn, though. It was absolutely mesmerizing watching him in the role of Soames Forsyte, who never smiles, takes himself so seriously and carries himself always with upright dignity. I could hardly take my eyes off him. He’s controlling, repressed and, in his own way, absolutely besotted with Irene. He almost runs off with the picture, despite the good cast, and by the end you even feel sorry for him. It’s his eyes; the sorrow and anguish he feels at the end.

Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon have their usual wonderful relationship that always feels right. Pidgeon is a bit more subdued in this film, a sadder man who has suffered a lot in life and wants to find a little peace and happiness and to see his daughter again.

Robert Young actually is the smarmy one, despite being the supposedly romantic figure Irene falls in love with. He’s engaged to one woman, but can’t help making love to another. Though their romance is somewhat presented as a doomed one, it’s not ultimately the heart of the film.

Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon, Greer Garson

Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon, Greer Garson

I read that Errol Flynn and Walter Pidgeon were actually intended to have each other’s roles, but were weary of being typecast and agreed to switch. Flynn wanted the dramatic role and Pidgeon wanted the one of the black sheep. I think the role swap was inspired, especially for Errol Flynn who also received most of the positive reviews.

The story is set in the 1880s and makes use several times of a London fog, when London fogs were quite serious events at their most dense and soupy. I was recently reading a book called London Fog: A History, which discuses Galsworthy’s use of London fog as a setting, as well as the use many authors make of fog, as well as painters – it’s the book that inspired me to add Galsworthy to my reading list and gave me added incentive to watch this film. It’s now on my “must read” list for 2016.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2016 in Movies

 

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Never Say Goodbye (1946)

lNeversaygoodbye1946Never Say Goodbye is a lesser known, but charming Christmas movie and I think what is most fun about it is seeing Errol Flynn in a non-typical screwball mode. He even gets to poke a little fun at his swashbuckling image.

Phillip Gayley (Errol Flynn) is an artist mostly known for his paintings of pin-up girls. But though his paintings have brought him fame, it has also lost him his wife, Ellen Gayley (Eleanor Parker). Now their daughter, Flip (Patti Brady), spends six months with each parent and when the film opens, she is about to go to her mother’s house for six months with her.

But Flip wants a baby brother to play with and reasons that the only way she can have one is to get her parents back together. And truly, her parents are more than willing to oblige. It’s clear that after a year of being divorced, they still only have eyes for each other. The only reason they divorced is because Ellen’s mother (Lucile Watson) talked her into it over the issue of Phillip’s pin-up models (and though he claims to be wrongly accused, he does seem to be a bit of a flirt).

Ellen still perks up at the mention of Phillip’s name, completely ignores the new suitor, Rex (Donald Woods), her mother has in mind for her and seems to be all-but encouraging Phillip to convince her that they should still be together. And Phillip does try awfully hard to convince her. Throughout the film he attempts wooing, cajoling, singing their song in her ear (Ellen asks, “You sang like that and I still married you?”), dancing, kissing, sneaking into her house dressed as Santa Claus, but something always comes along to break it up, usually in the shape of his current model, Nancy (Peggy Knudsen), who is trying just as hard to land Phillip.

The scene where Phillip accidentally ends up with two dates at the same restaurant is one of the film’s highlights. Luigi (S.Z. Sakall) – his real name is Schmidt, but when he bought a restaurant called Luigi’s he thought it was cheaper to change his name than buy a new sign – is a scene stealer as the friend who tries to get rid of Nancy so Phillip can devote his evening to Ellen and stop running between two different tables. Luigi tries everything from spilling soup on Nancy’s lap to an “accident” involving glass (“What are you trying to do to the girl? Kill her?” Phillip asks) to luring her away with a phone call, but it all ends in catastrophe (and the soup ends on him) with two very unhappy women. You almost feel sorry for poor Nancy, who seems to have some legitimate expectations from Phillip. As Luigi says, bemoaning with Philip that you “take a girl out two or three hundred times and right away she thinks that you are interested.”

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Errol Flynn is the first Santa on the right

Phillip also shows up at Ellen’s house on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa. It used to be a tradition every evening where he played Santa for Flip, but since Rex is also dressed as Santa, there is much confusion, best summarized at DVD Talk: “complete with Flynn running around the house and slamming doors, kissing an undressing Parker and slapping his ex-mother-in-law on the rump (much to their delight), as he pretends to be the stuffy Woods [Rex]. The scripters even drag up the old Marx Bros.’ “mirroring” bit (which Flynn performs flawlessly), before there’s a funny wrap-up as Flynn-as-Rex hands out gifts (none for the “old bag” Watson, he states) before smashing Woods over the head with a cocktail shaker (Woods does a hilarious crash into the Christmas tree).

Some actors work better with children than others, but Errol Flynn seems to be one of those who relates well. Phillip’s relationship with his daughter is actually just as central to the film as his relationship with his ex-wife and he and child actress Brady have genuinely sweet chemistry together as father and daughter. He plays a super indulgent father who does everything possible to make her life seem magical and she is a unique blend of worldly-wisdom who sees through it and children enthusiasm who embraces his fantasies fully. He likes to pretend to be Robin Hood or Sir Lancelot and calls her his Ziegfeld girl or Guinevere and talks a policeman into letting her ride his horse. He’s like a big kid and the two of them talking about how much they both want to be a family again is touching.

The film is very much Errol Flynn’s film, though it does have good performances from Eleanor Parker, Lucile Watson, S.Z. Sakall (Hattie MacDaniel is under-used) and the rest of the cast. Also in the film is Forrest Tucker as the marine, Fenwick Lonkowski. Flip has been writing to a marine because she heard on the radio that just because the war is over doesn’t mean there aren’t any lonely solders. With the help of Cozy (Hattie McDaniel), she has been penning romantic letters signed “Smoochie.” When she proposes including a pin-up picture of herself, her father argues that it could ruin a soldier’s moral by making him think that women in America are shrinking and instead swaps a picture of his wife in a bathing suit. Of course, when Fenwick comes back, he immediately thinks that Ellen is his “Smoochie” and she is happy to play along in revenge against Phillip.

Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker

Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker

Errol Flynn must have been a really good sport for this film, because he completely allows Forrest Tucker to show him up as physically wimpy (Fenwick does calisthenics in Ellen’s kitchen with his shirt off while Phillip wears Fenwick’s too-big pajamas and falls over and hits his head on the refrigerator – his jumping jacks are a hoot, too…so half-hearted and uncoordinated). Flynn also gets to do a pretty good imitation of Humphrey Bogart (the voice for that scene is really provided by Bogart) as he desperately tries to scare Fenwick away from Ellen.

It’s a pity Flynn didn’t get to make more comedies; he’s very effective in them. He has a sometimes goofy charm and yet he’s so handsome, no matter what he’s doing. But he wears his good looks lightly and never takes himself too seriously. The best swashbucklers do approach their work with a light touch, so perhaps it’s not surprising that he should be adept at comedy as well (Douglas Fairbanks did comedy before he started making his famous swashbucklers). It’s not going to replace Miracle on 34th Street as a Christmas classic, but it’s fun, especially if you are a fan of Errol Flynn.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Movies

 

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