Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Red-Hot Flynn In Hell-Hot Havana!

Friend at school had lived in Cuba right up to the Revolution. His family's escape was by same skin of teeth others managed. Till then, he collected (at age six) revolution trading cards distributed through neighborhoods by Castro rebels. John also told me his mother appeared as an extra in opening scenes of The Big Boodle and met Errol Flynn. Some years later, we checked a print I'd gotten and there she was. Now Netflix has it streaming. I'd not call The Big Boodle noir for reluctance to besmirch the genre. It's more like screen translation of trashy men's novels and mags that proliferated in the fifties, minus down-and-dirtier violence/sex these trafficked in. Just the fact BB was shot entirely on Cuban soil amidst backdrop of underworld takeover prior to Castro's ultimate takeover makes this crime meller must viewing. Soldiers of fortune were pouring into 50's Havana sure as Coop and company took Mexico in Vera Cruz, only these were of real-life sort and most Mob originated. Gambling was the Mecca that drew them. Forget heat-parched Vegas --- this was sun-and-fun south of Miami with rule books tossed by kindred spirit Fulgencio Batista, his Cuban presidency an off-on again status recently cauterized by rigged elections and alliance with notorious Meyer Lansky, latter the inspiration for Lee Strasberg's character in The Godfather --- Part Two. By 1956 and Flynn's touching down to make The Big Boodle, Havana was one wide-open town.

"The Monte Carlo of the Caribbean" saw hotels retro-fitted to casino modernity, with Lansky's ironically a straightest deal around. He wanted pro gamblers who'd appreciate on-the-level cards and spend accordingly. Meyer expanded the old Nacional Hotel and began construction on dream site The Havana Riviera, cradle of crime serving appetite of honest (if misguided) tourism. Into this perfumed sinkhole came moviemakers lured by hands-off government and off-duty pleasures Caligula himself might have blanched over. Havana Blossoms Into Top Show Biz Spot South of U.S., cheered Variety in February, 1956, which just showed how readily said Biz could be corrupted. Those with eyes and less conscience knew this was a Mafia stronghold, yet the trade applauded Cuba's political stability (¬°Ay, Caramba!), tighter control of labor, and new, encouraging laws. Among these was tax exemption for new industries, bent on this occasion to include indie gold-seeker Lewis F. Blumberg, son of Universal top dog Nate and producing on his own for a first time. The Big Boodle would be adapted from a quarter paperback by Robert Sylvester, the yarn based on real-life smuggling of Cuban currency out of a previous regime's coffers. Everyday occurrence was this, it seemed, except now it was Batista looting government safes.

Enter Errol Flynn, a Hollywood star "at liberty" you might say, though busy withal doing British-lensed TV anthologies he had to vacate on receipt of Blumberg's Havana invite. The deal was solid enough. United Artists had agreed to distribute The Big Boodle, and maybe front seed money besides, as Blumberg's was a name (albeit one flying on borrowed wings) good for opening doors if not wallets. Hollywood's second generation was already staking Cuba for cheap locations, Sam Goldwyn Jr. just repaired south with Vic Mature to do The Sharkfighters. I'm trying to imagine shock a crew felt upon first sighting of Errol. He'd sunk fathoms since quitting stateside work. A would-be comeback at Universal, Istanbul, was completed, but so far unseen, when The Big Boodle began shooting. Flynn's Blackjack dealer is on the trail of funny money and plates from which same derives, a set-up without juice to pass 84 minute litmus other than tiringly, but who among its innervated company would have recognized the gem of a time capsule they were filling? Havana settings would be emphasized, Flynn crossing streets and plazas at leisure, engaging co-players at luxury poolside, and so on. Background included an alleged bordello, for which only the "reception area" was utilized for shooting, according to Variety, plus a wind-up showdown at historic Morro Castle. Flynn learned BJ dealing at the Nacional ... they offered him a job should movies crap out, and based on recent evidence, might only have been half-kidding.

Critics would laud Errol's debauched authority as a down-and-outer scraping for bucks, the press abuzz over creditors vying with ex-wives for whatever poundage of Flynn flesh was left. He scored a pyrrhic victory in Rome against the cartel fleecing a William Tell venture that wouldn't see completion ... but where was good in a $340,000 judgment by all accounts uncollectable? EF got busy dictating memoirs on a portable recorder, non-inflammable tape, we assume, chuckled Army Archerd. Errol was always news even if his movies weren't, being game enough to boost The Big Boodle, this having most to do with twenty-five percent ownership of the negative. Such were vagaries of Cuban commerce that saw this guest paid in rum, cigars, and sugar for appearances on Havana TV. Island nightlife was Flynn's ideal of bacchanalian revelry, morn-after effect captured mercilessly by Lee Garmes' camera. Director of The Big Boodle was former Orson Welles compatriot Richard Wilson, who knew well enough what good pictures looked like, even if this wouldn't be one of them. Lukey (as he was called) Blumberg took pride in having finished Boodle for just over $600K, he and Errol already conjuring their next partnered venture, to be shot in New York (didn't happen).

The Big Boodle was readied for early 1957 dates. Ads and art (as above) gave in to pulpy and girl-focused as befitted indifferent outcome of the project. Dame-Baited Double-Crosses were promised and Errol Flynn of fifteen years before might have delivered. You'd think so based on cruelly-timed avalanching of Warner oldies via television. Was this what Flynn had come to in so short a time? Everything is right for filming again in the US, said trade described "expatriate" EF to Variety scribes: Contractual involvements, inferior technical facilities and abnormal financial problems overweigh the advantages of colorful locales and the actual story sites in overseas production, he'd add, no doubt reflecting on now completed The Big Boodle. Flynn would return to Cuba, inadvisably, less to make movies than to dive head (and what was left of reputation) first into that country's revolution-fueled downfall. The Big Boodle struggled toward 5,368 domestic bookings, most of these as second-billed of combos. US rentals were a fallow $214,057, with foreign $350K more. Together they failed to meet Boodle's negative cost. Lewis F. Blumberg would not produce another feature. Flynn's last few might have taken him in direction of character starring, but fate and bad habits caught up too soon for promise to be realized.


Blogger Linwood said...

You've inspired me to finally watch this film that I've had in my Netflix Instant Watch Queue for 2 months now.
Thanks to you, I can now view it as a unique travelogue of a bygone time and place, instead of being disappointed in the general lack of action or adventure.

4:56 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I can find NO playdates for THE BIG BOODLE in and around Salisbury, N.C. during 1957 - 1959, not even the drive-ins.

Unusual, with it being released by UA, a very strong distributor in this area at the time.

I'd sure like to know why.

9:31 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Too few playdates seem to have been Boodle's downfall, among other things. Of UA releases around that time, "Pharaoh's Curse" and "Bop Girl" got less bookings ... virtually everyhting else had far more ("Legend Of The Lost" with 18,929 to Boodle's 5,368).

9:42 AM  
Blogger Joe Thompson said...

I had not heard of this one, or did not remember it years after reading a book like "The Films of Errol Flynn". Don't you hate it when fall into a "dame-baited double cross"? Thanks for an interesting post.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I've always loved Flynn, and, corny as this sounds, these photos of him break my heart.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BOODLE villian Jacques Aubachon's family were friends of my family(they lived around Fitchburg, MA).

4:45 PM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

Given the involvement of Milestone, who directed THE FRONT PAGE, and screenwriter Charles Lederer, who contributed dialogue to Milestone's film and who wrote the screenplay for HIS GIRL FRIDAY, you'd think that OCEAN'S 11would be a bit more snappy. Was that the original intention, sabotaged by Sinatra's notorious dislike of rehearsal? I can see Lawford, with his diamond-sharp, elegant diction just chomping at the bit, as it were, to play the Cary Grant role; how sad that Sinatra could not pull off Rosalind Russell.

John, do you object to Akim Tamiroff on principle, or just in this show? He's great in everything he did for Orson Welles, although mostly inconsequential elsewhere, and better in B&W than in color, for some reason. Speaking of Welles, he has an unusual number of connections to OCEAN - when Welles first arrived in Hollywood, Milestone gave him what Welles called the best bit of advice about directing: "keep the camera close and keep it moving," which pretty much defines Welles's subsequent style; Lederer was married to Welles's first wife, Virginia, and tight with Marion Davies; Tamiroff had already played Block in MR. ARKADIN; and Welles and Sinatra were close at this time. When Welles stormed off the Universal lot as conflicts over the editing of TOUCH OF EVIL heated up, he went down to Mexico to work on DON QUIXOTE (with Tamiroff as Sancho Panza) with $10,000 Sinatra had contributed to bolster the budget. Sinatra also gave Welles the odd nickname "Jake", which Welles never explained, but which became the name of the Hemingwayesque director played by John Huston in Welles's unfinished THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. Too bad Sinatra couldn't have shoehorned Welles in as director of OCEAN; now THAT would have been a film for the ages!

5:48 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Did any other male star of the Hollywood golden era have as spectacular a career decline as Errol Flynn? I don't think so.
Cooper, Gable, Bogart, Grant, Stewart, Power, Wayne, even Taylor were all still appearing in major "A" productions at the end of their careers. Garfield's career was in trouble but that was the blacklist. Ladd was in an evident decline but he still didn't appear in an embarassment like Cuban Rebel Girls.
Around 1940 Flynn was as big a name as there was in the film industry, but by the time of Big Boodle (after the William Tell disaster) he was scrambling for any money he could find. His Sun Also Rises performance would create talk of a comeback but it was shirt lived indeed. Two years later it would be any TV work he could find (very little), Cuban Rebel Girls and death in a Vancouver apartment.
When Flynn played Robin Hood, General Custer or any of a number of other celluloid heroes he represented, for my money, the most potent combination of romanticism, athletic daring and animal sex appeal that the screen has ever seen. It saddens me greatly to see how this mercurial, self destructive personality allowed it all to slowly slip away.

6:26 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

As of July 2017, The ONLY Errol Flynn title which has not yet been given a major-studio release, is his 'comeback' film "ISTANBUL"(1957) from U-I, (in 'scope, too!).Want to say that Errol seemed reasonably sober while making this one first , and same for "The BIG BOODLE"(1957). However- as others have also noted-FLYNN is 'MERCILESSLY PHOTOGRAPHED BY LEE GARMES' in this cheap crime thriller, as if to zero in on an apparently impatient FLYNN- who seems to be, NURSING THE EFFECTS OF A probable on the town' beforehand-with a 'LET'S GET THIS THING OVER WITH' reflection; AND LOOKING all the WORST for it as well as the cast and crew probably questioning if this WAS Errol Flynn, or an imposter? Having to wear an OBNOXIOUS Band-Aid on his forehead thru out the entire 5 reels-- Come on, folks- this was indeed AWFUL, and it's apparent on the posters too - with the otherwise artwork ''ok''-as classic paper- it's 'B-FORMULA' lay-out crude with described quotes personally directed at us with an almost morbid desire to reveal the whereabouts of it's aging star. ("FLYNN'S RED-HOT IN HELL-HOT HAVANA!"). So then FOX-DADDY D.F ZANUCK bails him out for the awful (ok-it's ok!...) "THE SUN ALSO RISES"(1957)FOX; then later for the bewildering "THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN" (1958)FOX ,with FLYNN'S FOOTAGE cut to a cameo stint confusing all, especially facto with his FIRST BILLING STATUS, DUE TO WILLIAM HOLDEN dropping out. With OLD BOSS JACK WARNER sandwiching between them yet ANOTHER ROLE playing an alcoholic in the MISERABLE "TOO MUCH, TOO SOON"(1958) WARNER BROS. THIS PERIOD for Errol Flynn (1956-59)-- is a period which has NOT been covered in any of the FLYNN BOOKS FOR ANY RESOLVE OF A SATISFIED INTEREST describing the making of THESE final films. Of the entire batch of films that FLYNN made with his return to Hollywood, I have always had a liking for "ISTANBUL" (AND STILL WAITING FOR A DVD RELEASE!!)and despite the 'Band-Aid' on his face in "THE BIG BOODLE" it still has the curio factor of being a fast- paced portrait of FLYNN filmed IN CUBA, where, we know he returned a few years later to lend another lens on CUBAN politics with his last effort on film. As for the supposed "lost film" "THE CUBAN STORY"(1959)--I find FLYNN'S footage to be of a real fascinating interest, that is for the short few minutes he's in this-- what looks to be like private movies made by someone in the CASTRO camp. Personally I think FLYNN's footage in THIS, might have been some part of "CUBAN REBEL GIRLS" not used in it's final cut. A VERY QUESTIONABLE ITEM -as to HIS participation is this 'recently discovered' item, who knows? Could have lots of answers. Meanwhile FLYNNATICS are feverishly waiting for a rise of the submerged and long lost "HELLO, GOD" (1951). whoa!I just remembered John's earlier mention here that "THE PERFECT SPECIMAN" is the OTHER FLYNN FILM that has NOT been seen by many folks wanting a look at, as well, this early FLYNN item, which also has NOT YET been given a studio release DVD to date (2017).Oh well... I'm just another FLYNNATIC here with my opinions. It would be of interest to hear from others regarding 'FLYNN'S comeback period' concerning those last efforts --which at the least, were 'A' efforts with some class,..NOTE: BTW- as noted earlier -- LEE GARMES ALSO LENSED "THE SHARKFIGHTERS" (1956)--ALSO from UNITED ARTISTS--which is the only OTHER American film that I know of made entirely ON LOCATION in Cuba during this period..and these two films can be seen on TCM; MAYBE programed every few years or so-but TCM DOES have them!) whew! thanks!/..Steven/

1:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022