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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Errol On His Own

Flynn Steps On Skids with Crossed Swords (1954)

Crossed Swords Came To Chicago, But Did Not Conquer
Of movie idols who thrived in the Golden Age, Errol Flynn may have been a truest Man Of The World. He'd been everywhere, had traversed oceans and penetrated jungles. To make movies on the continent would seem more natural to him than doing so on Warner sound stages, thus Crossed Swords as welcome respite from Burbank captivity. Flynn had just split from WB when Italian backers offered Crossed Swords. He was not (yet) a star in decline, as recent The Master Of Ballantrae had done extremely well, and may have made Warners regret their separation from Flynn. The latter's Italian venture was initially called Teacher Of Don Juan, the title a bit close to Warner's previous Flynn vehicle for comfort, thus eventual change to Crossed Swords.

Errol's greater interest was launch of William Tell, his producing dream project for which Crossed Swords served as dry run. He was gad-flying among Yank picture-folk who were thick as flies overseas, and free with advice; both John Ford and Orson Welles were observed in hobnob with Flynn during the Italo sojourn. 1953 had begun with Errol laid up with flu, then jaundice, this as topping to a liver said to be in free-fall atrophy. These as cap for already dissipating features made Crossed Swords a less than flattering Flynn debut as independent filmmaker. Still, his kind of action was catnip to worldwide audiences, and Crossed Swords had plenty of that, even if staging lacked polish of Warner duels past. Locations were a plus, however; borrow of castle and grounds adding grandeur to a not otherwise lavish production. Color photography by seasoned Jack Cardiff gave Crossed Swords at least the impression of richness.

Flynn was spirited and cooperative; this after all was opportunity to establish himself as a free agent who'd henceforth customize his own star vehicles. Principal players spoke English, a must for US release prospects, while dubbing of support speech got by thanks to post-production assist from United Artists, that company having agreed to domestic-handle Crossed Swords and upcoming William Tell. Swords' co-star Gina Lollobrigida would provide merchandising advantage in the US, having appeared lately opposite Humphrey Bogart in Beat The Devil, and being sold as "Italy's Marilyn Monroe." Crossed Swords did tepid stateside business, only $332,000 in domestic rentals. More might have been expected based on patron response to costumers Ivanhoe and Scaramouche. Maybe a US market got word-of-mouth that Crossed Swords amounted to pasta less digestible over here.

United Artists sales wasn't to blame. They'd issue a lavish pressbook and arrange opens where bally might help most, but reviews were soft, Variety stamping Crossed Swords as "routine escapism for undiscriminating audiences." B.O. response varied according to territory, but common to all was distinct falling off in second frames, as experienced by Chicago's Monroe Theatre, which started OK, but "went sluggish" (Variety) for a follow-up week. Part of trouble, said observers, was so-called "2-D product lack," that is, a conventional framed movie being sold to a public drunk on "choicest available Cinemascope and widescreen pix." Result was Crossed Swords on lower end of duals, like in L.A. where it played saturation support to Shield For Murder, a "bad cop" actioner done for cheap and B/W, but more promising withal than Crossed Swords. Was Errol headed for shoals? Fate of Crossed Swords couldn't have made it easier for him to raise cash toward finishing William Tell. Coming years would render Swords a tough one to track down. There was TV exposure via 1958 packaging among 52 United Artists features that included The African Queen and Red River, probably the strongest syndicated group, from standpoint of post-48's, being offered that year. Ownership today of Crossed Swords is cloudy, and DVD's offered thus far have been iffy.


Blogger Simone Starace said...

The film has been released on DVD in Italy. The master is pretty good, but no English track is provided.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

The English language copy of Crossed Swords that I got was from Visually, it's quite lovely, doing justice to Jack Cardiff's splendid colour photography.

But the sound is perhaps a second out of synch, and the film runs just under 79 min. (while some sources say that it was an 86 minute feature).

Baffling to me is the fact that while you can see that Gina Lollobrigida was clearly speaking English, it sounds like another actress's voice on the soundtrack. Certainly doesn't sound like the Gina of Beat the Devil done around the same time.

Anybody know why Lollobrigida was dubbed, at least in the version I have? Possibly there's another version somewhere where her voice can be heard.

Crossed Swords is a decidedly minor effort in the Flynn canon, but, even though his dissipation is in full evidence, it contains his most light hearted performance on screen since he had played Don Juan five years before.

It is also climaxed by a surprisingly vigorous duel between Flynn and the villain. You can see some doubling of the actor here and there in the duel but Errol does much of it himself.

Even though he had been at death's door earlier in the production due to the jaundice, Flynn appears to be in reasonably good shape.

With the William Tell debacle right around the corner for him, Crossed Swords is the last film Flynn made in which he looks like he put in an effort to keep the weight off.

With the box office dud that Crossed Swords would be, followed by the Tell disaster, Flynn's days as a top star were over forever.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Simone Starace said...

My Italian DVD runs 85 minutes and 22 seconds. Counting the PAL speed-up, the correct 24 fps runtime should be about 89 minutes.

2:13 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Mike Mazzone sends along some very interesting background on Errol Flynn and "Crossed Swords":


Great post yesterday….

Concerning the working title for Crossed Swords, it was , at least for a while, working under the title “Jack Of Hearts”

This I know, as I have a Christmas card that Patrice sent from Italy to Sean in California dated January 1954 that features Errol as Don Giovanni an is captioned

“Errol Flynn, Jack Of Hearts, Viva Films”.

Pat tells Sean that “Pop’s been in the hospital for three weeks and should be out in a week”

She also says they will soon be taking an apartment in Rome, this would be about the time Errol started doing pre-production for William Tell.

I would also hazard to guess that this was the Rome apartment that Bruce Cabot had seized for assets when he sued Errol for non-payment of services rendered
during the “William Tell” fiasco.



5:51 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

That's a great card to share with us, Mike.

I'm a little confused by the date that you listed, however.

Wouldn't it be January, 1953?

9:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Mike Mazzone responds re the dates on "Crossed Swords" and Patrice's Christmas card:

In response to the question about the Christmas card. The card is a promo for “Jack Of Hearts” i.e. Crossed Swords, they were intended to go out to friends for Christmas 1953.

"Crossed Swords" was released in late July 54. Patrice explains that they got the cards late but she wanted to send him one anyway so he can see how handsome “Pop”

looks in his next movie. Sean got the card in Jan. 54. Patrice asks if he received his Christmas gifts they sent and mentions that they have more for him that they will bring the next time they are stateside. Errol may have ended up in the hospital exhausted, after "Crossed Swords" wrapped, which seems to have been a fairly involved location shoot. I’m just guessing, of course, as I’m not sure exactly when "Crossed Swords" wrapped.

I’m assuming it was shot over Spring/Summer/Fall 1953. Flynn associate Barry Mahon said there were continuous delays and that the production started and stopped several times.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Thanks very much for the detailed response, Mike.

When you stated that the card said that Flynn had been in the hospital, I mistakenly assumed that it may have been in regard to his battle with hepatitis. Admittedly, though, Wymore's note seemed a little too jolly for anything as serious as that.

I always find it a little confusing to get the precise time line for Flynn's activities. His hepatitis scare was in early '53 (possibly February) during the production of Crossed Swords.

In turn, according to a 1993 Filmfax article by Steve Archer on the making of William Tell, that filming ranged from July 14 to August 28th, 1953 when production permanently shut down.

Flynn must have been physically and emotionally drained after that experience (coupled with old pal Bruce Cabot stabbing him in the back with a lawsuit).

I could be mistaken but I always assumed that the Crossed Swords shoot was completely over by the time that Tell began.

That exhaustion to which you referred for Flynn (possibly the reason for his hospital stay) probably had more to do with William Tell, I suspect, than it did Crossed Swords.

Just a guess on my part and sorry if I appear to be rambling. This is a bit like mini detective work.

4:25 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Mike Mazzone follows up on the Crossed Swords/William Tell timeline:

Re: Tom’s comments,

Tom is correct on William Tell being shot July/ August 1953 as attested in Steven Archers excellent account for Filmfax of the filming of William Tell.

The timeframe for the when Crossed Swords was shot was just a guess as I have never seen any production info for Crossed Swords. Based on William Tell being shot in 1953, Crossed Swords must have been filmed at least a year earlier (1952?) and if that’s the case, it was a full two years before its July 1954 release in the US. Was it shown in Europe earlier than July 1954? With William Tell getting shut down and being a dead loss, and Crossed Swords yet to be released plus all his assets in the US being put on hold by the IRS, Flynn must have been really feeling the financial strain by Spring 1954.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Adding to Flynn's financial woes at this same time, Mike, was the fact that his business manager, Al Blum, died back in the States and Errol then discovered that Blum had spent about a million or so dollars of his on himself.

I'm pretty sure that Crossed Swords was in production at the begining of 1953 because it was, I believe, during February of that year that he was taken to the hospital with hepatitis (where doctors told him he had not long to live).

I hasten to add that that date came from Higham's book, so beware of the source. However, Tom McNulty's excellent bio refers to a Flynn diary input of Feb. 10, 1953 that Errol made after getting out of the hospital. McNulty wrote that Flynn was doing rehearsals for Swords at this same time.

Amazing, isn't it, that, right after being given as grim a report about his liver as a man could receive, Flynn was capable of returning to the set of Crossed Swords and look so relatively carefree on screen.

10:44 AM  

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