• Errol Flynn: The Warner Brothers Western Collection



    Released by: Warner Brothers
    Released on: 8/26/08
    Director: Various
    Cast: Errol Flynn, various
    Year: 1940/45/49/50

    The Movies:

    While Errol Flynn will probably always be best remembered as the silver screen’s coolest Robin Hood or possibly for his swashbuckling adventure films, the man also did quite a bit of work in Hollywood on a few different western films. While these don’t tend to be as popular as some of his other pictures, they hold up well and remain a lot of fun half a century or more since they were made. Flynn may be long gone but his legacy lives on and Warner Brother has packaged together a nice quintet of oaters from their massive catalogue in this appropriately titled boxed set, Errol Flynn – The Warner Brothers Western Collection.

    MONTANA (1950)

    Flynn plays Morgan Lane, an Australian who has relocated to the United States during the hey day of the Wild West who is hoping to purchase some cheap land so that he can raise animals. Unfortunately for him, the locals don’t want to sell to a foreigner, particularly to Lane, because of his intention to raise sheep and not cattle on the land! A local lady, Maria Singleton (Alexis Smith) who happens to own a sizeable ranch, takes a fancy to Lane despite the fact that he’s none too popular with the rest of the townsfolk in the area but even she’s put off by his intentions, though soon his charm begins to eat away at her resolve which causes some stress between her and her fiancé, Rodney Ackroyd (Douglas Kennedy). Will the cattle versus sheep debate keep Maria safely entrenched in the arms of the cattle lovin’ Rodney or will she put down her grazing prejudices and run to the man she really loves, that wacky Australian Morgan? It can all be settled one way – a good old fashioned showdown!

    Directed by Ray Enright, Montana is an unusually short seventy-seven minute film that packs a lot into its brief running time. Despite a fairly simple plot, the picture is quite a bit of fun as long as you don’t mind the hokier side of the romantic subplot. Flynn is his usual dashing self here in the lead and he plays his character with the type of infectious confidence you’d expect. While this isn’t a star making performance and he’s been much better in other films, he definitely carries the picture and had a lesser actor been cast in his part, the film would have probably passed by without so much as a blip on the radar. The highlight of the film? A great musical number – a duet between Flynn and co-star Alexis Smith. Singing cowboys are rad.

    ROCKY MOUNTAIN (1950)

    Also known as Rocky Mountain Trail, this film, set at the end of the Civil War, finds Flynn, in his last western role, playing Captain Lafe Barstow, a man who has been assigned with the formidable task of securing the western part of the United States for General Robert E. Lee (who, if you didn’t know, was really into breaking muskets on his knee, or so I’ve been told). He and his platoon of Confederate soldiers (one of whom is played by Slim Pickens) travel to California in hopes of enlisting some of the local sympathizers to help with their cause without realizing that there’s a bigger problem on the horizon – you see, when Lafe and his men save a wagon containing a woman named Johanna Carter (Patrice Wymor, Flynn’s real life wife at the time the movie was made) they earn the hatred of the local Indians, the Shoshones, who soon show their disdain by attacking pretty much all the white folk they can find.

    Flynn sends off the genre with a bang in his last western picture. Directed by William Keighley, this film is a little more action intensive than the others in the set, and a tad more violent. The picture starts off quite strongly and holds up well right through to a very unexpected and surprisingly (given the era in which it was made) unique ending and Keighley deserves a fair bit of credit for taking some interesting chances on this picture and for keeping the action moving along at a good pace. Flynn, looking a little worse for wear here approaching the twilight of his career, brings an interesting air of humanity and weariness to the part that goes a long way towards making this a considerably more believable picture than the other three films in this set. This film is to Errol Flynn what Tom Horn was to Steve McQueen.

    SAN ANTONIO (1945)

    Here Flynn plays Clay Hardin, a cattle rancher just trying to make an honest living who becomes more than a little annoyed when a gang of cattle rustlers snip his heard and head for Texas. Clay decides to take matters into his own hands and so he gets his guns and heads out into the country after them. Along the way he meets up with a sexy songstress (Alexis Smith) who happens to be in the employ of the bad guy in charge of the cattle rustlers who Hardin has come to settle his score with. Of course, she falls for him and does what she can to help her new boyfriend, but the west is a mean place where problems are settled with steel and fists!

    Twice Oscar nominated, this film is famous for a fantastic bar room brawl and a couple of tense shoot outs. Once again, a romantic subplot with Alexis Smith takes the edge off of the harder edged moments in the film (of which there are a couple, surprisingly enough) but their sincerity and chemistry onscreen makes it all work. Smith looks fantastic here, she’s a completely charming foil to Flynn’s dashing leading man and watching the two obviously enjoying themselves with this picture is a lot of fun. Director David Butler lets the pace lag in a couple of spots but the good definitely outweighs the bad here – San Antonio is a good, light hearted action/adventure/romance that’s well shot and a fun popcorn film.

    VIRGINIA CITY (1940)

    Flynn plays Kerry Bradford, an undercover Union officer who escapes from a Confederate jail and heads to Virginia City to hopefully prevent a train carrying a massive cargo of gold from getting to Dixie and funding the Confederate war movement, a move calculated by the prison commander, Vance Irby (Randolph Scott). Bradford’s plan? To smuggle it out of the city before it can get where it needs to go, but it isn’t going to be easy. Making things tricky for both sides is Murrell (Humphrey Bogart), a gunfighter from Mexico proves to be a pain for both the North and the South.

    With a cast made up of Errol Flynn, Randolph Scott and Humphrey Bogart it’s hard not to have a good time with this one. All three actors are great in their respective parts and the script gives them each ample opportunity to strut their stuff (Flynn more so than the other two but each one has a few stand out scenes here). While Bogart might not be the best choice to play a Mexican, he’s still fun in the part even if he’s not a particularly realistic casting choice. Setting the film against the final days of the Civil War is an interesting touch that helps this one stand out from the countless other westerns made in Hollywood around the same time while Max Steiner’s score and some truly striking cinematography ensure that the picture looks and sounds great.

    While the four films in this collection aren’t exactly highlights of Flynn’s fairly illustrious career, they do show his range as an actor allowing him to tackle comedy, drama, romance and action all equally well and with plenty of the wit and style he’s remembered for. Each picture is enjoyable in its own right and worth a look for fans of older American westerns. Yes, at times these films are a little corny and they certainly show their age in different ways and at different times but as relics from a Hollywood that seems to just barely exist anymore they’re deserving of our attention and if that weren’t enough, as simple entertainment, they work quite well.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Each of the four films in this set is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio: Montana and San Antonio are in color while Rocky Mountain and Virginia City appear in glorious black and white, just as they should. Although the four films do show their age at times, for the most part these progressive scan transfers are pretty nice. Aside from a bit of very mild print damage the pictures are consistently clean and there aren’t any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Contrast levels look good, particularly important with the black and white films, while the color reproduction on the two color films looks pretty lifelike and natural and there’s very little fading here and there. Fans should be very happy with the restoration afforded the four films in this collection – they look very nice indeed.

    As you could probably guess, considering the age of the four films in this collection, each picture is presented in English language Dolby Digital Mono with optional subtitles provided in English SDH and French. As it is with the video, there’s little room to complain here. The levels are good across the board and there aren’t any problems with audible hiss or distortion. Dialogue is always easy enough to understand and things sound just fine here, particularly when you consider the age of the four films.

    The supplements in this collection can be watched individually or through the ‘Warner Night At The Movies’ option which presents them all in a sequence replicating the movie going experience of the era in which they were made. The supplements in this collection are spread across the four discs in the set as follows:

    MONTANA

    Included on this disc is a vintage newsreel (these are always as amusing as they are interesting), a comedy short entitled Joe McDoakes: So You Want To Raise A Fuss, a vintage cartoon entitled It’s Hummer Time and trailers for Montana, Chain Lightning, Oklahoma Outlaws, Wagon Wheels West and Gun To Gun.

    ROCKY MOUNTAIN

    This disc features an interesting critical commentary from Errol Flynn biographer Thomas McNutty that covers the history of the film and it’s cast and which puts the picture into an interesting context and which provides some welcome biographical information and trivia. Aside from that, look for another vintage newsreel, another Joe McDoakes short (So You Want To Move), another classic cartoon (Two’s A Crowd) and trailers for Rocky Mountain, The Breaking Point, Roaring Guns, Wells Fargo Days, and Trial By Trigger.

    SAN ANTONIO

    Following the trend set by the first two discs, look for a vintage newsreel in addition to an Oscar nominated short entitled Vitaphone Varieties Short Story Of A Dog, two more shorts (Frontier Days and Peeks At Hollywood), a pair of classic cartoons (A Tale Of Two Mice and Wagon Heels) and trailers for San Antonio and The Corn Is Green.

    VIRGINIA CITY

    Last but not least, Virginia City includes a commentary from historian Frank Thompson. Also included as a making of featurette entitled The Light Brigade Rides Again. Aside from that, look for another newsreel and yet more vintage shorts – Cinderella’s Feller, The Flag Of Humanity, and the animated Cross Country Detours and Confederate Honey. Trailers are included for Virginia City and A Dispatch From Reuters.

    The Final Word:

    A quartet of enjoyable, if not classic, Errol Flynn films are given some wonderful restored transfers and presented here with some fun extras. These aren’t the best of Flynn’s filmography but they’re certainly entertaining enough and Warner Brothers has done a very nice job with this collection.

    NOTE: At the time of this writing the films in this collection are not available individually, you can only get them through this boxed set collection.