Friday, August 12, 2011

A Tribute to Errol Flynn As His Own Sun Was Setting - His Performance in The Sun also Rises

Errol Flynn as Mike Campbell in The Sun Also Rises.

 Errol Flynn died at the age of 50, a little over two years after appearing in 1957's The Sun Also Rises.  Ernest Hemingway's novel is a story of people whose lives had been changed forever, some ruined, by the horrors of World War I.  Hemingway's characters were damaged human beings who had lost their personal centers of identity with their war experiences, and they wandered in disillusionment and disenchantment.  Flynn's character, Mike Campbell, is the most heartbreaking, and his performance was superb.  The Sun Also Rises was not his last film, but it was his last significant performance, one which should have put to rest once and for all the ridiculous question of whether or not Errol Flynn was a real actor.

Errol Flynn, Eddie Albert and Tyrone Power
My piece about this movie is not intended as a review, but as a spotlight for a wonderful actor who was never given his due by the industry to which he gave his talent, and for whose success he played a significant part.  In discussing Flynn's work in The Sun Also Rises, it should be noted that the film was criticized for the choices of actors to play the leading roles.  All were older than called for.  Tyrone Power as Jake Barnes, Flynn as Mike Campbell, and Eddie Albert as Bill Gorton were all in their late 40's.  As per the usual Hollywood double standard, beautiful 34-year old Ava Gardner, who always looked younger than she was anyway, was cast as Brett Ashley, much too young and fresh to be believable as a contemporary of the men.  Gardner did a fine job, but casting her only further pointed up the age factor.  Power and Flynn, both of whom battled alcoholism, difficult personal lives and the ravages of time, had lost the beauty of their youth, and viewers were shocked.  Inexplicably, movie audiences were apparently unaware that youth and beauty do not last forever, even for movie stars, and perhaps they could not forgive their heroes for being real men.  Hemingway's book was very challenging to transfer to screen, requiring filming on location in Paris and Spain, with the difficult filming of actual bullfights, but this was achieved beautifully.  Perhaps not a perfect movie, I believe that The Sun Also Rises is a great film.  This is due in large part to the performances of Power, Albert and especially Errol Flynn.

It has been said that the character of Mike Campbell was so much like Flynn himself that it did not require much acting on his part.  To my mind, that criticism shows incredible ignorance of acting as a craft as well as a gift.  Mike Campbell was an aging playboy, a man of great charm whose looks and money were gone, a man forced to question all of the decisions of his life.  Flynn was at this time toward the end of his life and  learning what we all learn -- the mistakes of our youth catch up with us.

Even in his older years -- always a dash of color in a drab world
(From Crossed Swords)
When he was very young with all of life before him, Flynn said "I intend to live the first half of my life.  I don't care about the rest." What young person ever truly believes he will get old and ill, or addicted to dangerous habits, or find tragedy in life?  That belief in immortality is the charm of youth, and Flynn had more charm than anyone around him.  When he matured and found that life as a movie star was not the picture of glamour most of us think, he once said  "It isn't what they say about you. It's what they whisper."  There were many whispers surrounding Flynn's life, as well as headline shouts.  When he began to age, and cruel remarks were made about him playing caricatures of himself,  he said "I allow myself to be understood as a colorful fragment in a drab world." Flynn was an enigma, charismatic and determined to live fully to the end of his life, but also a man with demons to battle.  Olivia deHavilland, who knew him well in his peak career days, said of Flynn, "He was a charming and magnetic man, but so tormented."  Most surprising to me, even Jack Warner, known to be a harshly insensitive man who didn't like actors, Flynn included, once said, "Errol Flynn was one of the most charming and tragic men I have ever known."

Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner
The complex role of Mike Campbell required the ability to play charm, frighteningly-quick anger, self-deprecating humor, passion, jealousy, disappointment and deep sadness.  This was not an easy part, and despite his personal problems, Flynn was magnificent.  The character of Mike carried much of the movie's pathos on his shoulders, and Flynn's many scenes are some of the best.  He received critical praise for his performance.  So he was obviously nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor, right?  No.  According to daughter Rory Flynn's website devoted to her Dad:  A recent Australian documentary on his life and career, narrated by Christopher Lee, included a film clip of Errol Flynn being interviewed on his being nominated for the Academy Award for his critically acclaimed performance in The Sun Also Rises. We are then told that the nomination "disappeared".  (  That is all I could find out.  You know, I'm sure that the incredibly handsome, don't-give-a-damn-what-you-think type of man like Flynn grated a lot of people the wrong way.  I'm quite sure he could be very difficult to deal with, as are many people.  I'm certain men felt a jealous hate because their women wanted him -- women felt similar emotions because they couldn't have him exclusively.  And I would bet the farm that many of these were the very people in the movie industry who had the ability to deny him a well-deserved chance at an award. 

He might have not have won because he would have faced stiff competition that year -- Red Buttons, who won for Sayonara, and Sessue Hayakawa, nominated for The Bridge On The River Kwai, both gave fantastic performances.  Vittorio de Sica was wonderful in A Farewell To Arms.  But do you know who the the other nominees were?  Russ Tamblyn and Arthur Kennedy for Peyton Place!  No disrespect intended to those actors, but for that movie and those performances, it was an absolute joke. Somebody wanted to be sure Flynn was left out, and did so in such a manner that they may as well have knocked on his door and slapped his face.  Shameful.

Even today, when our culture is supposedly more tolerant and open, and when Flynn is more loved than ever before by classic film fans, his loving daughter Rory has been trying to get a tribute to her Father from the Oscar people, and recently had to post on her aforementioned website:  Dear supporters, We have all struggled to have the Academy of Motion Pictures award a posthumous Oscar to Errol Flynn.  I am sad to share with you that the academy will not be able to do so.  The president of the Academy, Mr. Sid Janis has informed me that the academy will not and has not given the award posthumously.  It is a  sad moment for me personally and I know to the many who share with me the joy and happiness that Errol Flynn brought to the screen and to our hearts.  Thank you for your support.  Rory.   What the hell?  But then, Flynn himself probably would have said, "What the hell - I lived a man's life and loved it all.  They know what they can do with their award."  (I made that up, but it sounds plausible!)

I am providing a link to Youtube so that any interested readers who have not done so, can see first-hand the quality of  Flynn's performance in The Sun  Also Rises.  Actually, the link is to the entire movie, which surprised me to find.  I am providing here 3 particular scenes in which Flynn just shines, with the exact places for you to forward to to find them.  If you choose to watch these, I hope you enjoy them.  It is worth every second.

(Opening credits with composer Hugo Friedhofer's magnificent score:)
   From the very beginning to the director's credit.

Cafe scene after bullfight:
   1:16:20 - 1:19:16

Outdoor cafe after the fiesta:
   1:34:20 - 1:37:10

Flynn's best small scene, very short, shows Mike as he is in private
   1:51:20 - 1:53:22


  1. Lovely piece on Flynn, the actor and man. I become more impressed with his ability as an actor as the years go by, even or perhaps especially in his swashbuckling roles. It's easy to say "oh, anybody can do that", but it's not true. Not every actor can convey a sense of fun and adventure without seeming foolish.

    As for the Academy - Bah! Edward G. Robinson was on his deathbed when they chose to give him an honourary Oscar and he passed before the ceremony.

  2. nice salute becky...I have commented B4 that Power looks "long in the tooth" as Jake Barnes, so I tend to overlook the haggard Flynn...this is probably his best role in the 50s (which is not saying much)...just don.t make me watch ISTANBUL!!

  3. What a wonderful, wonderful look at my all-time favorite actor. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, he should have received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for "The Sun Also Rises" and one can only wonder what his life may have been like if he received one. Would the offers have come pouring in, and he would have cleaned up his life?

    Alas, it may have been too little too late and since he was dead a year or two later, it maybe would not have mattered that much. But what good it would have done for his morale. I think he desperately wanted to be thought of as a good actor and perhaps this would have helped.

  4. Excellent post on one of the most beloved actors of the classic-film era. While THE SUN ALSO RISES is not one of my favorites, I think Flynn's performance stands out. He brings a pathos to his part, that of a man who knows his best days are behind him, and whose panache and style are only a shadow of what he once was. If Flynn really was just playing himself here, then he did it superbly -'acting' yourself onscreen is not as easy as one would think; it takes guts to reveal so much of who you are.

  5. Becky, your post was beautifully written and heartfelt. I must confess I've never seen THE SUN ALSO RISES, but you've got me wanting to do so now. While it's a shame that Errol Flynn wasn't nominated for his performance and that he was so shabbily treated, he's in good company; you could fill a stadium or two with the brilliant, beloved actors who were never nominated for Oscars. And you know, with all the talk of Ava Gardner looking so much younger than her aging co-stars, I've always found it ironic that Ava herself didn't age particularly well; I remember seeing her in SEVEN DAYS IN MAY looking rather baggy-eyed and older than her years. Still, from what I've heard, she didn't give a hang what anyone said about her looks; she just kept doing her thing. If that's so, good for her!

  6. Thank you everyone for your kind words. A lot of you know I am a lifelong Flynn fan, and I wanted to write a little tribute without any saccharine and some realism, at the same time lauding what is the real issue, a really special performance. I appreciate your attention to my piece and to The Flynn!

  7. How fortunate for Flynn that he is kept alive with tributes like yours. Another movie I have to make an effort to see. Sounds like a movie night is overdue for us.

  8. Hey Laura - I thought you were calling yourself "Aging Nurse" now! (I feel free to embarrass you little sisters I have enjoyed tormenting for a very long time! LOL! Movie night sounds great -- soon, I hope!
    Dorian,I had to pop back and tell you that I have always thought the same thing about Ava as she got older. She did age pretty fast and not that well, but even she said it was partly because she loved living hard, drinking and being one of the boys! She was apparently a lot of fun!

  9. Very interesting, heartfelt article on one of my favorite actors, Becky. While Errol may have given the best performance in THE SUN ALSO RISES, I think the finest of his later acting jobs was as John Barrymore in TOO MUCH, TOO SUN, the sad biography of Diana Barrymore. But then, Errol Flynn was frequently an underrated performer andf I'm not referring just to his heroic roles. He was an excellent Soames opposite Greer Garson in THAT FORSYTE WOMAN and as a ruthless silver magnate in SILVER RIVER.

  10. Becky, you have written an honest and very passionate tribute to Errol Flynn. My husband introduced me to his wonderful performances shortly after we were married. "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and "Never Say Goodbye" have especially shone for me in the Flynn film repertoire. Errol made his roles seem effortless and that shows me the mark of his mettle. I always smile when Paul prepares one of his Trivia Times and he includes a photo of Errol or question about his work. I absolutely loved your post, Becky. Thank you for highlighting a very talented actor in one of his most challenging roles. Awesome!

  11. Hi Rick. You are so right about his other dramatic roles. He had proved himself, The Sun Also Rises was to me best of those type of roles. Of course, Hemingway gave him a lot to work with. I also find this role and story to be particularly moving. I think also of his performanc opposite Bette Davis in The Sisters. Dramatic, very well done! I'm glad Bette changed her mind about him when she grew older and realized that he really WAS a good actor.

    Toto, good to hear from you! Your favorite of Flynn's movies is a good list. As you and others have discussed here, you cannot discount his swashbuckling roles as wonderful acting. Who as ever better at it than he? Perhaps as good was Douglas Fairbanks in the silent era, but only those two seem to me to have been able to pull off the "doublet and tights" roles while still looking natural and manly. It's NOT easy! And it does take a LOT of work to look effortless!

    I would like to say thanks again for your compliments and your obvious admiration for The Flynn as well. I just love him as you know (and as Paul and JoAnn certainly know with their Trivia Time fun tributes). It was important to me to try to write this article without being saccharine sweet or unrealistic. From you reactions, it looks like I succeeded, and I am so glad for that!

  12. I also love the film, THE SUN ALSO RISES and your tribute to Flynn's performance, along with Eddie Albert, they steal the film, in my favorite scene, during the bull run, when the two friends run for their lives, while drinking wine and Flynn uses a bad check, as a cape to fight the bull.

  13. Dawn, that scene is so funny! He and Albert were great together. I love it after Flynn falls and gets back up with his cigarette still in the holder, but all bent upward, and he keeps smoking it! Great choice of scenes! Glad you love the movie as much as I!

  14. How shameful that he never got recognized by the Academy. Great Post Becky!

  15. Bravo, great post on a great actor and wonderful performance!

  16. Thank you, Peter, and welcome to my blog! Hope you visit again soon!