Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (“Quinceanera”) make the most of a small budget in their fascinating “The Last Of Robin Hood”. Their Technicolor-bright film is varnished in Hollywood glamor of the 50’s, and indeed, in its reluctance to titillate, it feels more like a period film tip-toing around a scandalous topic. That is part of its charm.
DP Michael Simmonds (“The Lunchbox”) production designer Jade Healy (“Happythankyoumoreplease”), art director (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, “Flight”) and Costume designer Karyn Wagner (“The Majestic”) do the period proud. (There’s even a wonderful split screen phone call sequence.)
In this era, with of “College Girls Gone Wild”, naked pay for view websites, and several decades of Woody Allen’s Lolita-themed features, perhaps this old-school approach is the only way to suggest the scandal that Errol Flynn’s relationship with would be starlet Beverly Addland engendered.
A portrait of Errol Flynn’s last fling, the film has fun with its astonishing trio of characters.
60-something Kevin Kline plays the 49-year-old Errol Flynn. (When Flynn died at 50, it was said he had the body of an 80- year-old man.) No one else in Hollywood could capture the witty, self-deprecating charm of the aging Flynn. Susan Sarandon is fabulous as the peg-legged Florence Addland, complicitous, or turning a blind eye, as she foists Beverly into Flynn’s arms in the name of stardom. Dakota Fanning is perfect as the vacuous teen growing up under Flynn’s very personal tutelage.
It took co-directors Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland a decade to track down the interview tapes Florence Aadland had made for her book “The Big Love”. They also visited the publicity-shy Beverly Aadland in her Palmdale, California, home and managed to interview her for the film.
They also interviewed her Hollywood High classmate Ronnie Shedlo (played by Matt Kane), who served as Flynn’s assistant. In the film, Shedlo drove Flynn to a meeting with Stanley Kubrick. Flynn, who insists that he and Beverly are a package deal, loses the part of Humbert Humbert in “Lolita.”
There have been many films about stage mothers. (Visconti’s “Bellisima” the best), but few have attempted to get under the skin of the ambitious, driven mother, wrangling to give her child what she missed and hoped to have. Indeed, the filmmakers approach is to show the point of view of the peculiar trio, Flynn, Beverly and Florence Addland.
Florence, a vaudeville dancer who became a manicurist when she lost her leg, enrolled Beverly (a former Ivory Soap baby) in voice lessons at 2 years old, and acting classes at 4. Beverly was ribbon cutting at Hermosa Beach events as a toddler, and reportedly had a stint as a Vegas show girl at 14.
It’s 1957. The first time we see 15-year old dancer Beverly (Dakota Fanning) her mother tells her to change into a dress that makes her look older, before she goes on a studio call.
Flynn, a movie star on the downward slope when the story begins, is playing his old drinking buddy John Barrymore) in “Too Much, Too Soon ” when he spots a cute blond dancer on another set (She was in Gene Kelly’s chorus in of Marjorie Morningstar.”
He sends designer Orry Kelly (Bryan Batt-“Mad Men”. “Twelve Years A Slave”) to fetch Beverly (Dakota Fanning) to his bungalow, where he offers her a reading for an upcoming play he’s producing. She calls her mother to ask permission. The reading and dinner at Flynn’s house leads to a rapid seduction.
Beverly keeps her own counsel, but womanizer Flynn, married at the time to Patrice Wymore, can’t stop thinking about his virginal conquest.
Flynn, the man who famously partied at his bachelor digs “Cihhrosis by the Sea” with roomie David Niven, counted on Star Power and charm to coast through life. “I’m too old for her, but she’s not too young for me,” he explains to concerned friends.
Flynn approaches Florence with an offer to guide Beverly’s career. Armed with a plumy British accent and endless charisma, he sweet-talks bored housewife Florence into chaperoning the May-December couple everywhere, ‘lest people get the wrong idea’.
Soon, with star-struck Florence’s connivance, and in the face of her husband’s protests (“the man’s a walking penis”), Beverly is spending all her time with the aging roué.
Flynn proposes to Beverly, but he dies of a heart attack before he can divorce his wife.
Florence, who lost custody of Beverly in the ensuing scandal, became obsessed with clearing her daughter’s name. She gave many interviews at the time, detailing Flynn’s great love for Beverly. His final will, leaving part of his estate to Beverly, was contested and she received nothing.
There’s a wonderful sequence filming “Cuban Rebel Girl” in Cuba.
The 1959 hybrid dramatic documentary was the last on-screen performance of Errol Flynn. Written and narrated by Flynn, who was sympathetic to Fidel Castro before he admitted to being a communist. Flynn plays a reporter and Aadland plays a young American volunteer helping in the fight against the Government of Fulgencio Batista.
By 1940, debonair Australian-born Flynn was one of Hollywood’s most popular stars.
Although playing war heroes throughout World War II, the hard-drinking, swashbuckling Flynn was turned down for military service due to an enlarged heart, chronic TB and other maladies. He was self- medication on opiates for back pains.
Though not mentioned in the film, in 1942, Flynn had already beaten a rap for two cases of statutory rape in a lurid headline grabbing trial. “In Like Flynn” entered popular slang to describe his philandering ways.
Although maligned in unproven posthumous accusations that he was a Nazi sympathizer and spy, Flynn was drawn to left wing causes. He went to Spain in 1937 as a war correspondent to report for the United States during the Spanish Civil War. Unpublished articles written by Flynn, documenting his time in Cuba with Fidel Castro and his rebels, were discovered in 2002 at Austin’s Center for American History.
Despite promises to Beverly, In 1961 Florence Aadland and co-author Tedd Thomey published “The Big Love”. Tracy Ullman adapted the book for a one -woman show in 1999.