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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Flynn Sails With Universal-International --- Part One

Among the unexpected to show up on Region 2 Blu-Ray comes Against All Flags, a costume actioner Errol Flynn did for Universal-International shortly before truest career plummet began. Did U-I maintain standing sets for repeated pirate forays their contract and guest players took? Certainly these had polish, if not lasting value, of Warner, or even Fox, sailings. I watched Flags close for economies, there in abundance, but not once does it openly cheat, as pretender sword pics oft-would. Errol looks surprisingly preserved as well --- did he behave in hopes of continued Uni work and more percentage pay like Alan Ladd, Jim Stewart, and Tyrone Power were getting?

So Far as Errol Figured, Those Scars on His Back Were Ones Slave-Driving Warner Bros. Left

Flynn was represented by MCA agent Lew Wasserman, lately responsible for getting Stewart 50% of profit flowing from Universal's Winchester '73, a deal said to have yielded upwards of $600K to the actor. Soon enough came other name players beating at the percentage door. The money seems to have been real enough, at least for some. Tyrone Power allegedly took $750,000 by The Mississippi Gambler's theatrical wind-up. Alan Ladd was satisfied enough with Desert Legion to stay on for Saskatchewan. Wasserman by 1951 represented power beyond that of most studio heads. He had succeeded in re-negotiating Errol Flynn's Warner pact to allow outside pictures, one per annum, Against All Flags to be the star's first go at profit participantion with Universal.

Errol at Maureen's Mercy --- She'd Write Later That He Was a Pleasure To Work With

Flynn Rehearses Swordplay on Universal Soundstage
Flynn's doubled a lot in Flags --- Blu-Ray betrays such in action not as noticeable before. Were 35mm Tech prints so sharp as HD projection? I've gone long enough with digital to have near-forgot. You're way past surfeit of this stuff when sword scuffles become more a matter of spotting stand-ins than what action is performed. Flynn was good with medium-shot dueling ... sometimes he'd get too frisky, or in cups, so opponents got cut. Didn't I read where young Chris Lee spilled blood a few years later on TV's Errol Flynn Theatre wherein he guested?

There is Maureen O'Hara as a lady pirate, loath to kiss Errol unless it's her idea. Was she any sort of feminist role model ... ever? ... or did too many pairings with (and spankings from) John Wayne scotch O'Hara placement among icons for gender equality? She's actually good with a sword, near so as Flynn. Small wonder Universal touted their teaming as one that had to happen. Blu-Ray supports O'Hara's rep as a (no, the) Queen Of Technicolor. With lards of damaging make-up they used to put on stars, especially for Tech work, I'm surprised her complexion stood up to years of such application (and maybe it didn't, as unretouched stills of any Gold Age femme star are hard to come by).

Errol Flynn's Most Dependable Companions --- A Good Book
 and a Faithful Dog
George Sherman directed Against All Flags. He knew action from herding horseflesh and cowboys mounted thereon. I'll bet he finished this under budget. Sherman's is effort we call "workmanlike," by no means a pejorative, as age and further exploration of modest output makes me better appreciate pro jobs done by journeymen still awaiting their due. Universal saw Against All Flags highlighting a '52 season --- this was a money show and they'd spend (comparative) lots to put it equal as possible with period-dressed Metro, the latter's Stewart Granger series by far richest of adventure writ with feathers. Just having Flynn got AAF in venues less receptive to Uni programmers Tony Curtis or Jeff Chandler top-lined. It was sure-fires like Flynn, Stewart, Ladd, and Power that gave U-I revenue to develop in-house Curtis, Rock Hudson, and others who'd come to represent stardom for 50's youth, and indeed, it was company quest for unassailable A's that made them roll over for big-name % demands.

Among Universal's Junior Varsity Pirate Crew --- Philip Friend and Yvonne De Carlo

Universal's were otherwise the dime comic books of pirate movies. Looking at one was same as watching six for as much as they varied. Star potential was tested, option pick-ups determined by how (mostly) kid/teens responded to new faces. Some clicked, like Yvonne De Carlo as titular Buccaneer's Girl in 1950, but opposite number Philip Friend, "introduced" here (despite being in pics ten years), didn't register and walked the plank. Such product serviced what was left of a movie-mad public, down principally to youth, enough of them fortunately there to generate profits so long as Universal kept costs at bay. Technicolor was a common thread through postwar U-I actioners, westerns and costume piece alike. Whatever deficiency lay in script or direction saw compensation for being at least pretty to look at. With proper DVD delivery, many still are.

Part Two on Universal-International piracy is HERE.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Make-up artist Craig Reardon e-mails with detail on Golden Age studio applications ... (Part One)

Hi John,

I've never seen "Against All Flags"! I'd like to---I mean, I think I would. I wonder what exactly happened to U-I, which started with high hopes of becoming a quality alternative to the Universal that preceded it, and instead sort of surrendered (after some very good initial films, and I'm thinking of Hellinger's three films, and "Letter From an Unknown Woman") to B-dom for another decade-and-change?

I wanted to put in my two cents as to the remarks about Technicolor makeup. I think the rumor mill contributes to the notion that "old time" movie makeup was destructive, somehow. All it really was was heavy, in my opinion. In the early '30s, I think some of the studio makeup artists were still using grease paint, which was not only a generic name but a literal one, printed right on tubes of the stuff manufactured by Max Factor. This was considered an upgrade from stick grease paint, which was a bit stiffer and required some warming up before it was capable of being rubbed all over the face. Lon Chaney Sr.'s makeup kit, which actually still exists and somehow fell into the hands of the L.A. Museum of Science and Industry (versus the L.A. Museum of Natural History, its nextdoor neighbor), has a couple of sticks of greasepaint in it, which I take it for granted is petrified! It also contains such interesting items as some dentures he wore (character ones, I mean!), as well as some full-sclera (they cover the entire eye) glass contact lenses. So much for old, screwball rumors of Chaney putting "the skin of an egg" or alternately "collodion" (very much a bad idea!) over his eye. Collodion was a dispersion of something called 'gun cotton', or nitrocellulose (a primitive plastic) in either ether or acetone---not something you'd put in your eye in your right mind! But, back to makeup itself, the color---in the '30s, most makeup departments at the studios were moving over to new Factor products, either Pan Stik or Pan Cake makeup. The "pan" referred to its suitability for "panchromatic" film, film which could detect all wavelengths of light. Earlier orthochromatic film was insensitive to blue light, for one, which rendered some silent movie stars rather scary if they had light-colored eyes, especially blue! Pan Stik and Pan Cake were still in use when I got into the business as late as 1976, and they or their imitators remained in use for a decade or more. Today, it's a nightmare frankly, for there are scores of brands that trade places being the 'sine qua non' to this or that diva. A big pain in the ass, if you ask me. (Plus, many actors and actresses are actually air-brushed now, which is unnecessary, but not to hear the makeup artists tell their credulous clients.)

4:26 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon ...

I think that makeup in the '30s, '40s, and '50s (forward) was probably only different from that of today insofar as the desire in those years to blank out the natural complexion of a given performer and replace it with a highly-esteemed 'perfect' one, without blemishes of any kind, this in a day when even freckles were sometimes contrued as blemishes! But, I very much doubt that makeup did any damage---permanent damage---to any actor. I've never, ever heard any such conversation within the union I've belonged to for 34 years, even as gossip.
I think that although it was once very popular to simply smear on 'cold cream' to quickly emulsify and remove heavier coatings of coverage, and now it isn't---though makeup removers are still used for their relative speed, even though modern makeup is lighter in texture and more thinly applied----that actors always took care to clean the stuff off, and smart ones probably washed up too. I've never bought into the idea that faces were ruined with makeup. I think the fact is that we all grow old. When we see one of the gods or goddesses of the screen do the same, something in our brains short circuits and we feel there must be some reason why they don't look as great as they did when they were young and transcendent. I think the reason is age. What they do in their spare time, that's where a lot of the real problems begin and become serious. Erroll Flynn?! 'Nuff said on that subject---though I know you weren't speaking of Flynn in relation to makeup wear-and-tear.

Always great columns, John. BTW, where is this new BD being marketed, in the U.K.? I know one company over there previously put out BDs (I don't have them, unfortuntely) of "The Black Shield of Falworth" and "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves" (not "Arabian Nights", alas!) Did they ever put out "Cobra Woman" on BD?


To your question about "Against All Flags," Craig, I think the Blu-Ray was from Amazon Spain ... and there isn't, so far, a "Cobra Woman" in Blu-Ray yet, at least that I'm aware of. It has been shown in HD on some of the Cinemax channels, and looks great.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Paul Duca said...

I have heard the story that Margaret Hamilton wound up with permanent wrinkles on her chin from the Wicked Witch of the West makeup in THE WIZARD OF well as Buddy Ebsen's near-fatal reaction to the aluminum compound he was to wear as the Tin Man (which was reformulated by the time Jack Haley took over the role).

8:19 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

"Against All Flags" is on a Universal DVD set called "Pirates of the Golden Age" with "Buccaneer's Girl", "Yankee Buccaneer" (boredom in Technicolor), and "Double Crossbones" (Donald O'Connor sunk by a lame comedy vehicle).

It's $8.02 on Amazon right now. Pretty good deal even if you skip a couple of films.

If Universal didn't stint on AAF, it's probably because they saw it as an investment. Sets and model shots reappear in other films in the set (YB was evidently made just to keep the AAF sets busy during a break in filming).

AAF was remade as very television-like "King's Pirate" in the 60's, with Doug McClure, Richard Deacon as the pirate version of Mel Cooley, and Jill St. John in very tight pants.

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Len said...

I don't recall what actress it was who said it or where I read it even, but whoever it was, she put the blame on many performers of her generation not aging well on those beautiful, dark, healthy, glowing tans they all wanted in those days.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're wonderful photos, but all I can think when looking at later pics of Flynn is 'this guy isn't even fifty yet and look at him!' - and I don't think we can blame the make-up for that ;-)

Poor Flynn. he's a hero of mine in his weird way, I know he's this mythic hellraiser, but IMO people don't wreck themselves with quite such determination unless there's something seriously wrong somewhere.

OT but does anyone know of a person who who collects Basil Rathbone letters and who might be able to help identify some unpublished ones as genuine?

Second OT - I've jut opened up my own Basil Rathbone blog titled "The Baz" (massive effort of imagination on my part, you can see).

The first post is about this little book I found online called "Watcher What of the Night?" that details the fraught effort to get The Heirss on Broadway in 1947.

There's a marvellous little cameo of Basil and Ouida. - She was a very strange person indeed!

7:26 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

If memory serves, Flynn and Christopher Lee were filming a duel for "The Warriors" (1955)when Flynn got a little too enthusiastic with the sword and sliced open part of Lee's hand.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I'm a great fan of Flynn -- He was able to make anything watchable. (Yes ... even Cuban Rebel Girls!) I think he's an actor who has not really gotten his due.

@TheGreatBaz -- as one Rathbone lover to the next, congrats on the site!

2:08 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Wasserman was not the first to get profit participation for a client. Agent Myron Selznick earned several of his clients either net or gross as early as the mid-1930s. Director Leo McCarey earned net profit on LOVE AFFAIR, Fredric March received net on RKO and United Artists films, Fred Astaire earned gross on RKO, and Carole Lombard earned gross participation on RKO films as well.

12:44 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

How right you are, Mary. In fact, even Marie Dressler contracted for a percentage of "Tillie's Punctured Romance" in 1914! There's an excellent new book on this subject, "Hidden Talent," by Tom Kemper, that I'd highly recommend.

5:11 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Love Natalie Wood's stereo.

9:13 AM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

WILL U-I EVER RELEASE their OTHER Errol Flynn title, "ISTANBUL"? This WAS his real 'comeback' film to Hollywood, and NOT "THE SUN ALSO RISES"!! Nothing great here, but IT IS a romantic little gem in 'SCOPE and TECHNICOLOR, with an additional PLUS having Nat 'KING' Cole sing a couple of neat songs; While the film is no great shakes, it remains a sentimental favorite for some of us...I think the film has received a 'bad rap' through the years, perhaps because it hasn't been viewed much.. (just AMC, years ago, SCREENED IT, when Bob Dorian hosted what was then, the BEGINNING of the wide screen 'letterboxed' versions EVER shown on TV..way back when!!, or if a collector ever got so lucky as to find a print of it..!). Flynn fans will note that he only made 5 titles in 'scope! Thank you for this Flynn article, and for my recent discovery of GREENBRIER!!

7:24 PM  

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