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Saturday, August 13, 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 as Mike Campbell, Eddie Albert as Bill Gorton, and Tyrone Power as Jake Barnes
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, Flynn and Eddie Albert were all in their late 40's. As per the usual Hollywood double standard, beautiful 34-year old Ava Gardner, who looked too young to be believable as a contemporary of the men, was cast as Brett Ashley. 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 this was probably a factor in the criticism as well.  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.  I believe that The Sun Also Rises has its flaws, but it is a great film. This is due in large part to the performance of 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.  Yes, the part of Mike Campbell is that of an aging, alcoholic playboy, but even if an actor drinks in his personal life, he cannot work if he is really drunk, and no director would put up with it.  People who are truly intoxicated are unobservant, clumsy and not sharp enough to work.  Actors have to remember lines, make the mark required for the shot, act with subtlety when required -- Flynn was acting.  It could not have been easy for him either.  Mike was a man of great charm whose looks and fortune were gone, who was no longer receiving the easy attention his youth and beauty once gave him, a  man forced to question all of the decisions of his life.  Flynn at this time was also dealing with the ultimate experience of all people reaching the latter part of life -- seeing the mistakes of our youth catch up with us and trying to deal with it.

Even in his older years, a "colorful fragment in a drab world."
(Pictured here in 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 enigmatic man, 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."
*Quotes credited to Flynn's own writings and the Internet Movie Database* 

Flynn with Ava Gardner as Brett Ashley
The complex role of Mike Campbell required the ability to play charm, frighteningly-quick anger, self-deprecating humor, jealousy, disappointment and deep sadness. This was not an easy part to play, and despite his personal problems, Flynn was magnificent. The character of Mike carried much of the story'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'.  (http://www.inlikeflynn.com/.) 

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 sure he could be 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. I would bet the family 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.  Flynn had always wanted very much to be considered a serious actor, and official recognition of this role would have done it for him.

The 1957 Best Supporting Actor nominees would have provided stiff competition for Flynn 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 excellent in A Farewell To Arms.  Flynn had given a performance of a stature that clearly belonged with those.  But do you know who the other two 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 loved more than ever before by classic film fans, the movie industry still refuses any tribute to him.  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." 

Janis's statement that the Academy does not give posthumous awards is just not true. My blogging friend Caftan Woman advised me that the great Edward G. Robinson had never been awarded an Oscar, and he was dying when the Academy decided to give him an honorary award.  Robinson died before the Oscar ceremony was ever held, yet he was posthumously given the honor he definitely deserved.  Selective regulations do not sit well with me, and I think the Academy's reasoning about Flynn shows incredible hypocrisy in denying this wonderful actor the recognition from his peers that he hoped for during his life.

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 the beautiful opening credit, and 3 particular scenes in which Errol Flynn just shines, with the exact places for you to forward and easily find them. If you choose to watch these, the short time it takes 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

My favorite of Flynn's scenes, very short, revealing Mike as he truly is, when no one is looking:
   1:51:20 - 1:53:22

*I wrote and published this article originally on the Classic  Film and TV Cafe movie blog of which I am a member.  I would also like to thank Caftan woman, whose tip about the posthumous Oscar situation was so valuable.  Links to both sites can be found on my blogroll at the sidebar*


  1. I mean to watch these links when I have a free moment. I'm trying to listen to the Yankee game on low volume now. My daughter and her hubby are there today watching in person. Pennant race going on. I hate the Yankees, so I like to listen when they lose. But today I want them to win for my daughter the Yankee maven's sake.

    Being a mother is hard. Ha!

    I love Erroll Flynn and I am outraged with you, Becky, that he never got his due. The Academy has disrespected many great artists. So he's in fine company. :)

  2. You bet being a mother is hard! One hard thing is having to listen to music in their teen years that they adore just as I did my teen music, and pretend you like it!

    I may have mentioned this to you before, but as impossible as it is, I think his daughter Rory would like this. He died without ever knowing that he would be considered a real actor, if not by his own peers (idiots), then by whole new generations who can see and appreciate it!

  3. P.S. I think you would love Rory's website. She sure loves her Dad. No matter what else he was, there is something wonderful about a man whose wives (well, most of them) continued to love him after separation, and whose children adored him.

  4. Becky, as I said over at the Classic Movie and TV Cafe, your post was truly beautifully written, and so 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 certainly in good company; you could fill a stadium or two with the brilliant, beloved actors who were never nominated for Oscars.

    Ironically, 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!

  5. Dorian, you are so kind to comment here on my site as well as at the Cafe. I really wanted to be sure I re-posted it here because it is an important subject to me. I also want to make a blog book out of my site someday -- maybe as presents for my sons and grandchildren. Something of an important part of me for them to have!

  6. "The Sun Also Rises" could've been so much a better movie...but I tolerate it for two reasons: Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner. Two very talented and beautiful people who are perhaps underrated because they were movie stars - and so very beautiful.

  7. Eve, glad to see you! The movie is flawed, no doubt, but wonderful despite that. I couldn't mention everything in my tribute article, but the relationship between Flynn's character and Eddie Albert's character was a significant part of the story, and done so well -- Albert was a talented asset, and the two men looked like they were having a lot of fun in their scenes - I hope that was true.

    I have always believed that Flynn's physical beauty was just as much of a bittersweet blessing to him as it often is to women. I can't help but remember gorgeous Rita Hayworth and a sad, very telling remark she made about the failures of her marriags. She said, "They go to bed with Gilda, but they wake up with me." Just from things he said in his own books, I know Flynn often felt the same way.

  8. Thoughtful post. It's been many years since I saw this film, but I remember being surprised by Flynn's work. Just imagine the work he could have done had he not died so young.

  9. Thanks, CFB ... it is definitely worth another viewing. As I said, it has flaws, but watching and Albert particularly is worth it. Power was not bad, but seemed a little wooden to me. Gardner was good, but to me too pretty to look like a dissolute woman.

    I too wonder if a shot in the arm to Flynn's career would have helped him -- it was probably too late for his health by then, but it would have made him happy, according to his daughter Rory. I contacted Rory through the great website she set up for her dad, just to tell her I liked it and had written an article about her Dad in his later years, spotlighting this movie. Never expected anything - the site gets thousands of views and comments - but she emailed me and asked for the link! I couldn't believe it. May never hear back, but just that made me feel great!

  10. Typo! I meant FLYNN and Albert, not just Albert! LOL!

  11. You are a terrific writer, Becky! Your respect and love for Errol Flynn really shines through your piece.


  12. Rhonda, I'm so tickled you came over to read and comment! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. It means a lot, lady!

  13. I couldn't agree more. Flynn will be my only Hollywood hero until the day I die. May he rest in peace.

    1. Anonymous, that was lovely. Of course, I don't know who you are, but we feel exactly the same way. I'm so glad you came to read this and share your feelings with me.

  14. Errol was a the man!

  15. Glad to find same folks sharing my thoughts about Errol Flynn, one of the brightest male stars ever graced the silver screen. He has been underrated as an actor. RIP.

  16. I first discovered Errol Flynn through the films he did with Bette Davis when I was studying her work (The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex & The Sisters). I saw a sensitive & natural actor who stood the test of time and then proceeded to watch more of his films. I think he was so linked to the role of Robin Hood that it limited him as an actor in the minds of the public (as in the case of Anthony Perkins with Psycho). It is sad that Errol was never given the opportunity to display his entire range as an actor & didn't fulfill his potential. However, the legacy of film work he left behind in hindsight shows a far better actor than he was given credit for in his lifetime. Even Bette Davis said, upon watching Elizabeth & Essex later in her life, that she was wrong about Errol's acting ability all along and that he was indeed a "marvelous" actor. His presence, personality, charm & good looks sadly blinded many people to his natural acting talent. But very few artists leave behind a multitude of portraits. We should be grateful for the performances that Errol Flynn did leave behind. Many actors today would be content to have his body of work.

  17. Enjoyed this post very much. I have been an admirer of Flynn's work for many, many years. While Sun Also Rises is his most fully realized character work, he had other noteworthy performances that surprised critics. That Forsthye Women in 1949 was one, and Too Much, Too Soon, the film after Sun Also Rises was another. I had never heard he acutally was nominated until I saw thw Australian documentary, and have never found other evidence. It is easy to surmise, however, that a number of things could have happened to deny him a much deserved nomination. 20th Century Fox might have been pushing another film or another actor from their diminished stable; the box-office potential of Sun Also rises might have been fully depreciated by the time of the nominations, so that a Flynn nomination wouldn't have added to the box-office. Or, it might have been that voters didn't know whether to nominate him for Best Actor of Best Supporting Actor. The part was supporting, but the actor's name had been above the title for over twenty years. Ultimately, it could well have been studio politics. the critics thought the film was marginal, but said he was magnificent. Sadly, without a studio behind him, there was no one to advocate on his behalf.