BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE BIG BOODLE

By • Jun 18th, 2011 •

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Errol Flynn is an acquired taste. As a young actor he seemed energetic but vacuous (CAPTAIN BLOOD). As he got older he seemed puffy, winded and embarrassed about his failing faculties (THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN). And when he was old (aged 46+) he seemed jaded, winded, and finally authentic. He lived a life of prideful excess, co-authored a wonderful autobiography (in the nick of time), and croaked in 1959 at age 50, a victim of his own demons, which must, for a while, have seemed to him the height of being alive.

But if, as I and so many others have, you grow enamored of the man, grow steeped in his life and legend, then watching his films becomes a very different story. They are fascinating at any point in his career, because the celluloid life fuses with the flesh and blood life, because there is a certain knowledge that creeps out from between the frames, something about him that speaks to us regardless of director, shooting schedule and budget. In fact, if the budget is obviously low, if the cast and crew surrounding him are just collecting paychecks, all the better.

THE BIG BOODLE is set and shot in pre-Castro Havana, and not terribly well shot, by Lee (PORTRAIT OF JENNIE) Garmes. It is directed in a pedestrian manner by Richard (INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER) Wilson, and scripted by Jo (NIGHT AND THE CITY) Eisinger – one of his less sterling efforts.

Flynn’s co-stars are a smug and belligerent Pedro Armendariz (who killed himself six years later, one of the 90+ victims of CONQUERER Syndrome), Gia (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) Scala, and Rossana (‘The Errol Flynn Theatre’ of the same year) Rory. None stand out, though Armendariz come the closest.

But it hardly matters, because the moment you set your gaze on Flynn, grim and subdued, sitting at a gambling table, you can’t stop looking at him. Rarely has one done so little to earn such transfixed attention. Undoubtedly it was an effort by then, two years before his demise, to simply hold himself together physically. But it works for him. All that history, all that energy, now clearly being conserved so that he can get from frame A to frame Z, is powerful stuff…for us. And he wasn’t over by a long shot. THE SUN ALSO RISES, TOO MUCH TOO SOON, and THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN were to follow.

Flynn plays a croupier in Havana who is given counterfeit pesos from a standoffish blonde at his table. Numerous beatings and police roustings follow, and somewhere a noir femme fatale may be lurking. The plot unfolds clumsily as the pesos lead to more and more threatening situations.

I dare you to recount the plot to anyone a week after watching the film (which, to its credit, moves along briskly, and shows off the Cuban locations). But Flynn’s grim countenance…that you will never forget.

No complaints about the mastering of the MGM archive title. I doubt the original negative accrued much wear. I don’t know anyone that’s ever seen the film. So much the better for us. Slim and unsubstantial though it’s contents may be, the DVD will remain in my collection.

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