Monday, June 4, 2007

Gentleman Errol

Due to a heavy weekend schedule of high school graduation parties and cook outs, I did not see any new releases this weekend. I would have liked to have checked out “Mr. Brooks”, Kevin Costner’s serial killer movie, but that may have to wait a few weeks.

I did manage to squeeze in a DVD viewing of “Gentleman Jim” (1942), a splendid biopic of 1890s boxer James J. Corbett played by Errol Flynn. This was reportedly Flynn’s personal favorite of all his films, and it’s easy to see why. It’s one of his best performances and, I would even go as far to say he should have been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.

The boxing scenes are first rate and Flynn worked very hard to recreate the dancing style and the ferocious left jabs of Corbett, and he appears to be having the time of his life both in and out of the ring.

He’s very childlike in his enthusiasms, like an overgrown kid enjoying his life to the fullest. He even gets to do a short Irish jig with his family, a charming scene I had forgotten about. Some may find his Irish family too broad and stereotypical, but when the father is played by Alan Hale (a good friend of Flynn’s offscreen) all is forgiven.

His leading lady is Alexis Smith, and they always seemed to have a good rapport, even when the films aren’t particularly interesting, such as “Dive Bomber” (1941) or “Montana” (1950).

The 1890s setting is brought to life in a typically splendid Warner Bros. fashion. Director Raoul Walsh is in his element with this material, and watching it I always feel, as I do with so many other Walsh films, that he genuinely likes his characters, from the main players to supporting players and even the extras. Crowd scenes in Walsh movies always seem to be extra boisterous and energetic.

Another highlight is the performance of Ward Bond as the champion fighter John L. Sullivan. It’s one of his best loved performances, portraying Sullivan as a loud, tough bragging, thick brogued Irish fighter. However, in his final scene when he comes to Corbett’s victory party to congratulate him on his win, that persona is turned completely on its head as he graciously concedes to Corbett. It’s a beautifully written and played scene, and ends the movie on a memorable note.

Check out “Gentleman Jim” if you want to see Errol Flynn, one of Hollywood’s most magnetic stars, in one of his best performances.

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