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Flynn & Rathbone – the perfect duelists


This article is posted as part of the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Classic Movie Hub & Once Upon a Screen

Read almost any study of the Golden Age of movies and sooner or later you will probably come up against a reference to the “classic pairing” of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone as swashbuckling duellists. They are the go-to names and imagery for the genre. When you want to illustrate a classic swordfight – you use a still from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. In the collective consciousness these two fought each other through countless rounds in countless films. Rathbone and Flynn, Flynn and Rathbone locking swords, throwing giant shadows across our memory as they parry and thrust and leap in an eternal, immortal showdown.

So, in how many movies did they duel each other? Ten? Seven? Five?

No, actually it was two.


Just two. Only one more time than Flynn duelled Henry Daniell or Rathbone fought Tyrone Power.

Surely not, right? It has to be more than that. I mean, everyone knows that Flynn and Rathbone spent a large part of their Hollywood careers chasing each other around castles.

But no.

Flynn made more swashbucklers without Rathbone than he did with him. Rathbone made more movies with Vincent Price and Boris Karloff than he made with Flynn.

I guess that tells us that legends aren’t necessarily about physical measurable things. They’re about some spirit of place and time. I guess when Flynn and Rathbone faced each other, swords in hand, they perfectly embodied that moment and the meaning of what they were doing, in a way other partnerships didn’t quite, and somehow they stepped out of linear reality a little, the way all legends do.


Why these two? The simple and obvious answer is – because they were both so damn good at it. Has there ever been such an athletically gifted – or physically beautiful – movie-duelling partnership? Flynn was an Adonis. And Rathbone was not an everyday sort of heavy. He was no Henry Daniell or Lionel Atwill. He was too beautiful. Too charismatic. He was made by nature to be a leading man, and in fact had been one in the early thirties, before he suddenly and inexplicably quit Hollywood and went back to England, thereby borking forever his chances of Grade A stardom.

So, when he and Flynn lined up it was a far more equal pairing than the usual Matinee Idol-meets-Slightly-Frumpy-Bad-Guy. When they fought they did so with equal amounts of dash and hero-swagger and when we watch it seems highly possible Flynn might really be outclassed and lose. The contest seems real and engages us as being real even though everyone knows it in fact isn’t.

And then there was that other immeasurable factor – their personal chemistry…..


It’s not by simple chance that Flynn and Rathbone were adopted as a subject by Queer Theorists, or that they have become slash icons for a new generation of fans on Tumblr and elsewhere. You don’t need to begin crassly exploring their personal sexualities to be aware that something happened when Flynn and Rathbone were on screen together, duelling or not.

Whether they are playing Norman and Saxon, rival pirates or traumatized WW1 flyers, as soon as they face each other there is movie magic. Unspoken things happen when they hold each other’s gaze. As audience members we are drawn in, intrigued. Gisborne and Robin are more than just rivals. They are – what? Curious about each other. Attracted to each other in some indefinable way. They seem to know – as we do – that, however much Olivia de Havilland might be their symbolic object of desire, it’s their mutual interaction that truly engages and defines them. And when they fight, they seem to move like two bodies with one mind, embodying Fred Cavens’ description of the ideal screen duel

“…The reliance on one another to go at full speed, where one slip could administer serious injury. You hold each other’s eyes. You see nothing else. The focus totally on one another, the almost telepathic sympathy, like one set of thoughts flowing through two bodies, and the hard hard work of sweating it out right time and time again. If you don’t love each other and trust each other and live in each other through the sequence you are going to fail…”


We’ll leave the question of love and trust aside right now and focus on the “sweating it out.” That kind of discipline, to work and work and get it right, might seem to be expected of Rathbone, with his classical theatre training and focused professionalism, but what about Flynn? Did he – could he even – apply himself to that kind of sustained “hard, hard work”? Most film analysts and writers would tell us right away the answer was “no.” They’d tell us the legends of Flynn’s laziness are almost as legion as the legends of his womanizing. That Flynn never could or did apply himself to anything but self-indulgence and that he coasted his movie career – even the dueling – on his good looks and natural athleticism. That Rathbone had to carry him and could easily have outclassed him. Even Rathbone in later years tended to disparage Flynn’s work as a swordsman, claiming that Tyrone Power, whom he went up against in THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) was a far better duellist than Flynn.

“Power was the most agile man with a sword I’ve ever faced before a camera. Tyrone could have fenced Errol Flynn into a cocked hat.”

You can find that quote all over the internet. Everyone believes him, it seems. But it’s simply not true. Rathbone was talking nonsense. Either he’d forgotten the truth or he was intentionally avoiding it. Tyrone Power was emphatically not a better swordsman than Flynn. He was probably barely a better swordsman than Flynn’s grandmother. Power was a terrible swordsman. So bad in fact that Albert Cavens had to double him for most of the fight sequence in ZORRO (you can even see Cavens in one shot, if you freeze frame in the right place), and even so, Power managed to cut Rathbone’s forehead (twice) with a mis-aimed blow.

However lazy he may have been, Flynn was a thousand times the athlete and swordsman that Power was. Everyone knows this, yet no one has challenged Rathbone’s ridiculous claim. Bad as Power was, it’s still easier for us to believe he was better than Flynn, because we all know Flynn was a playboy who thought with his genitals and never cared enough to be good at anything that didn’t involve using them. Maybe we think he doesn’t deserve to have been better than Power, who was a much “nicer” and gentler personality. Maybe we just don’t want it to have been that way.

Errol Flynn reminds me in many ways of Cool Hand Luke, the eponymous hero of the movie starring Paul Newman. Luke is reduced to a symbol of other people’s need to believe. His own experience becomes, perhaps always was, irrelevant to his ardent admirers, and ultimately his reality is sacrificed to their need to believe.

I think Flynn’s reality has also become largely lost in his legend, and that this was as true during his lifetime as it is now. I think it is one of Flynn’s tragedies that he may have been more aware of the mythifying of his persona than most people have been at the time or after. What we glimpse of the man behind the Myth-mask is deeply intelligent, sensitive, self-doubting and troubled. But I think he knew full well that people had little interest in these aspects of his reality, that they needed him to be certain things, to transcend the human frailties of fear and self-doubt, be reduced to a simplistic symbol of Dyonisian self-indulgence, and he both indulged and exploited it, and ultimately let it destroy him.

No one then or now has ever wanted to see Errol Flynn as hard-working, as developing a craft, as doing anything as ordinary and vulnerable as trying to be good at his job. It doesn’t fit his image at all that he might have cared about anything enough to really try. And even when he did it seems as if people didn’t see it, didn’t notice his moments of application or diligence. Never believed he had worked hard, even when he obviously had.


I think we need to consider this when thinking about the way people talk about his duels with Rathbone.

Look again at those sequences. Especially the duel from ROBIN HOOD. Watch them closely. Run them in slow motion if you can. Look at the hundreds of beats where he and Rathbone have to be in perfect synchronization, where even a tiny slip would mean the shot was ruined.

Imagine yourself trying to replicate it.

How would you fancy your chances of putting on the green tights and just having a go?


I think suggesting Flynn was so cool and talented he could just turn up and coast through that fight is like saying Astaire didn’t have to rehearse his dance numbers with Ginger, because he was just that good. Sure he was physically talented, but – reality check here – talent isn’t the issue. You have to know the moves. And when you’re working as one half of a double act you have to know your partner’s moves too.

Flynn and Rathbone were performing there own kind of pas de deux, every bit as much as Fred and Ginger were, and it just would not have been possible for Flynn to coast by. Remember Cavens’ words quoted above:

“You hold each other’s eyes. You see nothing else. The focus totally on one another, the almost telepathic sympathy, like one set of thoughts flowing through two bodies, and the hard hard work of sweating it out right time and time again…”

However hard it is for people to accept, Flynn must have worked at that fight, learned the steps, practiced the moves. Even Rathbone admitted as much elsewhere, when he said that both he and Flynn lost around seven pounds in weight while filming that duel.

The reasons why Rathbone later felt the need to disparage Flynn in that unfair way are not known, but maybe it forms a part of that tension-attraction that was their professional chemistry. Rathbone also offered one of the best summaries of Flynn’s tragedy on record when he said “he had talent, but how much we shall never know.” Though I believe he misdiagnosed the situation when he claimed Flynn “had no ambition beyond “living up” life to the full.“ I think that was Flynn the Myth. Flynn the Man had a lot of ambitions, but maybe not always the guts to defy the Myth and admit to them.

What did Flynn think of Rathbone? He left no direct public record of it in his short life, but Rathbone recorded in his memoir that:

“…I would say that he was fond of me, for what reason I shall never know. It was always “dear old Bazzz”, and he would flash that smile that was both defiant and cruel, but which for me always had a tinge of affection…”

You almost get the feeling Rathbone is admitting the fact with reluctance, as if he would rather Flynn hadn’t liked him at all, and if he were being a little less honest he’d pretend he didn’t know it. Maybe the fact that Flynn was fond of him made him feel guilty about disparaging the man in favour of Power. Maybe there were tensions between them that went unrecorded or at least unpublished.

Whatever the private truth, the public reality is that Flynn and Rathbone came together on screen to create the perfect archetype of a genre. No one has done or will do it better. They are each other’s best claim to cinema immortality.

Whether they like it or not.

Other participating blogs:

The Hollywood Revue – Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

Bogie Film Blog – Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre

Stardust – Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck

Greg McCambley on Once Upon a Screen – Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in The Third Man

Outspoken & Freckled – Nick and Nora Charles

Caftan Woman – Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear – Martin and Lewis

Durnmoose Movie Musings – Abbott & Costello (Part 2) – Let’s put some murder in the mix

Be Careful! Your Hand! – Maleficent and her crow Diablo from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

Hitless Wonder Movie Blog – Evelyn Ankers and Lon Chaney Jr.

Movie Classics – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

The Last Drive In – Bette vs. Joan, “Get Back in the Chair Blanche”

The Last Drive In – Bette vs. Joan, Part II “I wouldn’t piss on Joan Crawford if she were on Fire”

goosepimply allover – Doris Day and Rock Hudson

Viv and Larry — Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier (on-screen and off-screen)

Citizen Screenings – Batman (1966)

Picture Spoilers – Dynamic Duos in Libeled Lady

The Man on the Flying Trapeze — Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, focus on Hold Your Man

The Motion Pictures – Cary Grant and Joan Bennett in Big Brown Eyes and Wedding Present

Noir and Chick Flicks – Carole Lombard and Cary Grant

Movies Silently – Vilma Banky & Ronald Colman in The Winning of Barbara Worth

The Nitrate Diva – Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich

Weird Flix – Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, 50th Anniversary of Beach Party

Film Flare – Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren

The Jeanette MacDonald Blog – Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy

She Blogged by Night – Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi

Western Comics Adventures – The Lone Ranger & Tonto – Part 3

Trocadero Baby – Farley Granger and Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train

Frankly My Dear – Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Too Many Girls, The Long Long Trailer and Forever Darling



  1. Robert M. Wallace says

    Having been an avid, ardent and devout admirer of Basil Rathbone ever since I was { as the trite, but true adage goes } ” knee-high to a grasshopper “, because of my Beloved Mother and Grandmother–particularly, ” The Adventures Of Robin Hood “; for me, that, and: ” The Mark Of Zorro “, ” Captain Blood “, his collective Sherlock Holmes films. . .any, and all of his movies
    are Absolutely Awesome to behold! Which is why I’m appalled, aghast, and horrified at the heinous films { his genius, gifted and experienced acting abilities completely ignored } he was subjected to: ” Hillbillys In A Haunted House “, ” Autopsy Of A Ghost “, ” Voyage To A Prehistoric Planet “, ” Queen Of Blood ” [ mildly offensive ]!
    Lastly, I firmly believe that Basil held an appreciation and respect for Errol, and was NOT bashing him; he had Errol to many of his parties–they seemed to work together quite well! Anyway, GOD BLESS you Basil, our loss of your not being here with us–your devoted fans and admirers–is Monumentally GOD’S gain! ! !


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  3. Gerry Dooley says

    I agree with just about everything you said especially regarding Flynn’s work ethic. There’s no way this could’ve looked so good unless they both put a lot of time in with Fred Cavens. Flynn was very competitive, I’m sure he wanted to outdo Rathbone as far as not screwing up a take. I disagree with your comment about Power and The Mark of Zorro. It’s almost all Power with the exception of a phrase where Al Cavens ends with putting his sword into the glass of what looks like a bookcase. Otherwise , great analysis of what I think is the best marriage of actors, music, sets, cinematography and directing to make the best duel in film history


  4. The “grandmother” comment about Tyrone Power was petty and misinformed. Major Power was a Marine Officer in WWII, the last war in which officers packed their swords into the combat zone. When he heard that his Reserve unit had been sent into the Pacific Theater, he sneaked away from Hollywood to join them, despite the exemption for actors needed for patriotic films. He only returned home because he was threatened with court-martial if he _stayed_ in the combat zone.
    Power was an excellent swordsman, and saying other, for the sake of an essay premise, seems petty.


  5. Pietra says

    Basil Rathbone was not talking nonsense when he talked about Power versus Flynn. Power was an extremely able swordsman and better than Flynn. He studied fencing at the Schuster-Martin Academy and did swordfighting not only in Zorro, but in Mississippi Gambler.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am in absolute agreement with you Sir! There is certainly enough evidence when I watch both Flynn and Power that Power is indeed superior to Flynn. Flynn liked to jump around and stunt his way through fights. No problem there, but his swordsmanship was not very good.
      I accept Rathbone statement and his judgement.


  6. This was a wonderful read. That fight scene was much more than just bad guy hacking away at good guy. That was a dance, and it was choreographed beautifully. Baz (and yes, Errol) went all out for that.

    ‘…lost seven pounds…’ Oh, dear. You’ve given me a lovely mental picture of these two dancing around a studio, sweating up a storm. Don’t tell my husband. 😉

    I read part of “My Wicked, Wicked Ways” and I got the feeling that Errol wanted it all, all at once. It doesn’t work that way, dearest…

    As I said above, no one died like our dear Mr. R. When he got stabbed, you FELT it.


    • Richard Velazquez says

      As much as I liked there duels,they didn’t compare with Stewart Granger vs Mel Ferrari duel in Scaramouch!
      That will always be the best.Still holds up today.


  7. rosebette says

    Go check out the photo of a young Errol Flynn being measured for a costume posted by silverscreendream on the TUMBLR site. Oooh to be that tailor!


  8. WOW – LOVE THIS! Feel like I went to school. I knew nearly nothing of this information excepting the actual on-screen duels. I love them all, including the one between Rathbone and Power in MARK OF ZORRO. I’m of the ilk that cares not about the behind the scenes stuff as long as I “buy into” the story I’m watching. Having said that, however, it’s really too bad Flynn doesn’t get the recognition he deserves because those scenes between Rathbone and Flynn are just magic.

    Fantastic post and THANK YOU for submitting this to our blogathon!


    As you can see, I’m still makiong the rounds to read them all.


  9. Tyrone may have been the better swordsman, because his dwellin in The Mark of Zorro was very impressive (and Basil’s boots, oh my God!) but as a rival for Basil, Flynn comes first. I mean, in their two films the rivlary is bigger and the dwell is extremely waited for the public.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂


  10. Ellen Foley says

    So much was missed by not pairing Barrol in other flix together.I agree,if Errol was reaching out,too bad it didn’t produce results,but some just don’t pick up on the need until too late.Nothing hurts more than the look of despair I once saw in a young person,and an effort to help that was shoved aside and his too-young death months later from extreme despair due to failure of mental health pro to follow-up on his request for immed hosp for depression,then suicide once he got home cuz he couldn’t wait until Monday.


  11. Primrose says

    Wow another love letter is on Tumblr. I don’t think this one os even on Marcia’s site!


    • If it’s the one posted by BasilRemembered then it’s just the second one that Marcia published. I’ve checked out the #basil-rathbone tag and there’s no other letter. 🙂

      Can I remind people though that it was agreed to stop discussing the letters for the present time. 🙂


  12. Ellen Foley says

    How many movies have been released when critics claimed a “lack of chemistry”?Everything looks and feels so awkward about those films.Trying to think of examples.Part of my reasons for viewing some Baz pics include how things click,direction,acting,dialogue.Adv RH had it all,plus the greatest duel.I agree,a duel and boxing/dancing you have to be in perfect sync and be able to read the opponents thoughts to know how to react to counter a blow.Nothing in analyzing the actors moves is meant to convey anything other than what director interprets from script.This blog has nothing to do with labeling Errol,Baz,Tyrone.They would have to get along onset to convey such perfection on screen in their duels.My rant be over for now,I think we’ve all expressed our love and respect for the greatest duelists ever onscreen.


  13. I like your observation here: “You almost get the feeling Rathbone is admitting the fact with reluctance, as if he would rather Flynn hadn’t liked him at all, and if he were being a little less honest he’d pretend he didn’t know it.”

    Excellent post and a valuable contribution to the blogathon. The next time I see Flynn and Rathbone dueling on screen, I’ll remember your well-written piece and appreciate the duel all the more.


      • GRETCHEN says

        I have a feeling that the reason Basil did not like to admit Errol was fond of him, was because he didn’t APPROVE of Errol’s personal life-choices, ethics, and behaviors. Basil probably disliked any association seen between he and his co-star outside of their professional one. Poor Errol…he was reaching-out for a friend in Basil, and was REJECTED. That must’ve REALLY HURT. 😦

        I’ve just been CRYING today while re-reading online the facts of Errol’s horribly SAD life:

        I had read several years ago that he was a womanizer, and also slept with UNDERAGED girls…he was charged with at LEAST 2 counts of statutory rape, and he “dated” a 15 year-old girl at the end of his life (I believe he died from his heart-attack while making love to her). Because of his sexual-recklessness, he suffered with MANY venereal diseases for most of his life— as WELL as bouts of malaria since childhood, and tuberculosis; which both aided-in the terrible damage to his heart. His drinking led to cirrhosis of his liver, chain-smoking caused him to acquire Buerger’s disease (which causes inflammation and clotting of the extremities), and he ALSO had hepatitis…this man’s body was SO HIGHLY-TOXIC with disease, it aged-him internally (and externally) by MANY years (at the time of his autopsy, he had the body of a 75 year-old). Later in his career, he looked like he was in his early-60’s while still ONLY in his mid-40’s, and had completely LOST the once young and vibrant handsome appearance he had in his first films.

        On TOP of all this he was DEEPLY in debt, and was forced to sell the LOVE of his life—his yacht—at the time of his sudden death (at the young age of 50). Sailing had been his GREATEST passion in life, and I can’t even imagine how PAINFUL it was for him to give-up his beloved boat.

        I recently read somewhere that he MAY have had BIPOLAR-DISORDER (also known as “manic-depression”), which would explain a LOT of his peculiar behaviors. He WAS quite depressed, but also showed more telling aspects of the disorder…a person with bipolar is often HYPER-SEXUAL, and displays carelessness and a lack of control in decision-making when it comes to whom they sleep with, as well as WHAT they do— orgies, threesomes, sexual addiction (including soliciting prostitutes); and in Errol’s case, also acting-upon his attraction to young girls. Bipolar causes a person to do and say things they normally would NOT, and they are unable to stop themselves from doing compulsive, SELF-DESTRUCTIVE (and often embarrassing) acts. Commonly, they are addicted to drugs and alcohol, using them to “manage” the terrible effects of the disorder…just so they can get through the day. (Other addictions, such as gambling and shopping, may also be present.) They may feel “indestructible” at times, taking risks which put themselves into physical danger, and “completely worthless” at others, wondering why they exist at ALL. Suicidal thoughts plague them, and the “ups” of mania and “downs” of depression are extremely DEVISTATING. A person who has this disorder is truly SUFFERING, and unless treated medically, will eventually be led to a premature and unhappy demise, like Errol’s. Both Jeremy Brett AND Jim Varney (who played “Ernest”, but was also a HIGHLY skilled and talented Shakespearian stage-actor) had bipolar disorder. Thankfully, they received treatment and lived MUCH better lives because of it, prior to their (also TOO EARLY) deaths.

        Whatever the reason for Errol’s bad life-choices and ultimate end, I only WISH Basil had been more UNDERSTANDING of this person’s pain, and had truly BEFRIENDED him, rather than acting kind to him out of pure POLITENESS. It seems quite clear that Basil did not RESPECT Errol. He may not have been patient enough to really LISTEN to this poor man’s heart, or couldn’t empathize with what was actually WRONG with this person, seeing him as merely a “glutton” for “living-it-up”…who KNOWS??

        There are a lot of even WORSE things Errol did in his life, which you can read about in books and online. He also FAILED in his many job-endeavors, prior to becoming an actor (the latter of which he never took too seriously). In spite of what he WANTED people to believe, he was NOT a happy person. Anyone living in misery as HE did couldn’t be. But…I’d like to think that the precious children he helped to create (2 of which died as young adults) who have such a fondness for him, the wonderful film-memories we have of him, and his GOODNESS as a person (that is often overlooked because of what he did “wrong” due to his mental health issues), should be what we remember MOST. In death, the TRUE GIFT of his existence here is NOT to be forgotten.

        I’d like to think that he and Basil are now BEST-BUDS— all is forgiven between them, and they’re sailing-off to find many new adventures together on that beautiful blue ocean of ETERNITY. After all…weren’t they BOTH adventurers and explorers, and don’t they DESERVE happiness and peace at long-last?? 🙂


        • rosebette says

          Gretchen, while I understand your compassionate response to the much misaligned Flynn, you do have a few factual errors. For example, he did not die of a heart attack while making love to his underage companion; he traveled to Vancouver and was telling stories to a group of friends, then complained of back pain and asked to lie down. He never awakened. Some of Errol’s physical ailments were not the result of hard living, but of some of his early travels to tropical places — the malaria and TB, for example.

          Don’t believe everything you read about Flynn, because rascal as he was, much has also been invented about him! A good source, though, would be Robert Matzen, who posts occasionally here, and authored two books about Flynn. I’m always cautious about overdiagnosing people. My own feeling is that Flynn was not really aware of how troubled he was in his early career. I don’t think in the 1930s, Flynn was “sad” or aware of the source of his discontent to the point that he might have “reached out” to anyone. Matzen’s theory is that Flynn was ADHD, which accounts for his adventurous personality, his history of going from school to school and job to job as a youth, and also for some of the reports of Flynn’s lack of discipline as an actor — sometimes it actually was hard for him to remember his lines, but he was clever and charming enough to mask it; apparently he was a good ad-libber.

          My own take — Flynn and Basil probably liked each other, but also had some jealousy for personal and professional reasons. After all, here’s Basil, mid 40s, theater trained, paid his artistic “dues”, and here’s Flynn, this young upstart who becomes an instant star. On the other hand, Basil as a “independent agent” was better paid at that time than a contract player like Flynn; Warner’s saw Flynn as a piece of meat, not a professional. Add to that Basil’s natural charm and intelligence, as well as the pleasant attentions he pays to Flynn’s co-star, Olivia, with whom Flynn was in love, even if there was not actual affair for any of the trio. Basil probably resented this young man to whom fame and stardom came too easily, while Flynn aspired to have the background and qualities that Basil possessed. Of course, Flynn’s fame came with its own terrible price; perhaps his downfall was that he was not emotionally equipped to deal with a success based on image and projected identity.

          This may also be one of the reasons why Basil “bagged” the studio system and returned to the theater in later middle age; he was not willing to put up with the superficialities and the stress. Perhaps it was a courageous decision on his part to stop buying into that system to support Ouida’s outrageous lifestyle. It was not a financially lucrative deal, but theater goers did get to seem him as Dr. Sloper, and later in MacLeish’s J.B. We talk about Basil’s tragedy, but he did some good work in his 50s and 60s, an age that Flynn never reached.


        • Ellen Foley says

          So well put by a truly sensitive fan of both men.Errol had supposedly found out he had cancer shortly before his death,and I believe liver failure.Thought had heard lung cancer.He said when he’d been in H’wood a few years he wouldn’t live to old age.


          • GRETCHEN says

            In reply to Rosebette:

            WELL-WRITTEN! 🙂

            I’m glad you also liked my comment, but I’m SORRY if I said anything that may have seemed OFFENSIVE, or disrespectful of Errol or his life. He was a total SWEETHEART!!

            I never said he’d contracted malaria or TB because of his hard-living…I DID say he’d had malaria since childhood and also had TB. (These would have both been acquired from the various tropical locations he’d lived in and traveled to, as you said.)

            I’ve read BOTH versions of Errol’s death…I can’t say whether the story of him dying while with his young lover is “true” or not— it’s just ONE possibility…the opposing story may have been told to COVER-UP the fact that he was sleeping with a CHILD, for the sake of any “bad-publicity” surrounding his death. (Remember in the ’50s, when Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year-old cousin? That didn’t go over too well!) However, the version you mentioned is most LIKELY the truth, because it makes the most sense. One thing we know for SURE is that he died of a heart-attack…his body was just OVERWHELMED with disease, and his immune-system compromised; as well as his tired heart. I’m SO glad his death was a somewhat GENTLE and kind one, and not so drawn-out and painful as it COULD have been. It’s terribly SAD he ended-up getting cancer, too. What an UNLUCKY GUY!! 😦

            I think the “ADHD” theory is as good as the “bipolar” one, but we may never know what his ACTUAL problems were…it’s mostly speculation. He definitely had a HYPERACTIVE personality, though!

            I don’t think Basil would have purposely “dissed” Errol the way he did if he’d truly admired him, or they were good friends. I still don’t understand WHY he said those things…he wasn’t a mean-spirited sort of person, so it seems quite out-of-character for him. He may have felt that Errol wasn’t ENGAGED enough in his work— not PASSIONATE about acting the way Basil and his fellow performers were. Errol just took the job because he was able to make a decent wage at something he happened to be good at, and didn’t realize HOW TALENTED he actually was. It probably FRUSTRATED Basil, seeing this young kid who didn’t have to TRY so hard to get to the top, and whom he might have considered to be a “loafer”. Basil may have also felt that Errol “insulted” the acting profession (which he himself adored SO much), either because he didn’t take it seriously as a “real” career, or because of his shiftless nature. He might have seen GREAT possibilities in Errol’s future, and wanted him to ALSO appreciate the qualities he recognized in the boy. I’m sure it hurt Basil to see such a talented performer waste his life away drinking, drugging, partying, womanizing, and basically DESTROYING his emotional and physical health; when he had SO MUCH more to offer this world. It probably ANGERED him, as well— like a father watching his son go NOWHERE in life, with all that unused potential. In a way, Basil MAY have been giving Errol “tough-love” to get him to wake-up and DO something wonderful with the great gifts he possessed, before it was too LATE…and his life, over too SOON.

            VERY SAD. 😦

            (Also— THANK YOU, Ellen…if your comment above was referring to mine!) 🙂


            • rosebette says

              I wasn’t offended by anything you said, Gretchen, just trying to put the facts of Flynn’s life into perspective. The only person who offends me on this site is Alyssia, who appears to be living in her own fantasy world.

              It was fairly well-known that Flynn had a teen-age “companion” at the time of his death; they had been in a relationship for some time, so I don’t think there was any cover-up. There were several people present at the residence where Flynn died, so it wasn’t exactly an “unattended death.”

              Rathbone did not always “dis” Flynn. I just think he was a professional and didn’t have much patience with people he perceived as slackers. Another thing I thought about was that here’s Flynn, this very gifted, handsome guy, throwing it away with dissolute living. Yet, Basil had such a period in his life in the 1920, but Basil had been through a great deal of personal tragedy — the traumatic experiences of war, the death of his brother, the death of his mother. But there’s not evidence that B. ever let this behavior intrude on his professionalism in the theater. Basil could have been remembering his own past, seeing how privileged Flynn was, and thinking, “What right do you have to throw it all away like that?”

              I was trying to find another quote from Rathbone where he said that Flynn was very talented and had tremendous potential, but I couldn’t track it. It was either in his autobiography or another interview. Rathbone spoke of Flynn because he was often asked about him — after all, Flynn was probably his most colorful co-star. There’s another comment by Basil in an interview from the early 60s where Basil confirms Flynn’s talent, but Basil, who is being interviewed by a swimming pool, says that Flynn could no more avoid self-destructive behavior than Basil or anyone else could avoid jumping into a pool on a hot day. I think Basil was a very perceptive man.

              You might enjoy visiting Robert Matzen’s Errol and Olivia blog ( and look at some of the past posts. Some of the ones from January/February 2013 talk a lot about Flynn’s relationship with Beverly Aadland, his young mistress. It makes for interesting reading. I must admit, I admire Flynn’s screen presence more than I admire Flynn as a person; I mourn the person and actor he could have been.


              • GRETCHEN says

                I agree…it’s SO sad when someone SO young ruins his life because of his reckless and self-destructive behavior. And now, poor Errol will ONLY be remembered for THAT part of who he was; NOT for his great talent as both an actor and a writer.

                I hope he actually “cared” for his young lover, and wasn’t just USING her…he seemed to have been a KIND person, although not the most intelligent in his life-choices. I wonder why he didn’t get BUSTED for dating a kid? Maybe she was from a state/country where it was LEGAL at the time. He’d SOOO be in jail if it was NOWADAYS!!

                It’s good he wasn’t completely ALONE when he passed, and that his friends found him. I have a book that mentions how he was SUPPOSED to have actually died, and how the “death-during-sex” thing was just a rumor. (But, even if it HAD happened that way, it wouldn’t be that uncommon…MANY men die during sex, if they have heart-problems.)

                And YES, Basil did a LOT of self-destructive things, TOO— when he was going through his depression and PTSD stuff after the Great War, and even into the 1930s. (Plus, MOST young guys sleep-around and date a BUNCH before they’re ready to settle-down, which is normal…Errol just NEVER stopped! It’s quite possible that Basil never stopped, either…he was just better at COVERING it-up!!)

                I ALSO agree with your comment about Alyssia…

                (As Tim Conway, Jr. often says on his A.M. radio talk-show!) 🙂


                • GRETCHEN says

                  I meant,


                  Yeah…that’s better! 🙂


                • rosebette says

                  Flynn was a risk-taker, and even then he was skirting the law. Matzen has some letters Flynn wrote to and about Beverly, and it appears he really did care for her; Matzen’s and others’ speculation is that Flynn in many ways was emotionally an adolescent himself (hardly surprising), and Beverly was quite mature for her years.


              • Ceridwyn says

                I was just wondering if Basil didn’t see something in Errol that reminded him of his brother John; wrecklessly going to war. Maybe it pained him to revisit those feelings.


            • Ellen Foley says

              Absolutely was,and great insight,he deserves understanding,as does Baz,and even OR,and they all get that at this,my fav site.Lots of love from everyone for all parties named,and I appreciate it,and everyone’s hard work to get out the truth.


  14. rosebette says

    Terrific article — what a treat! The chemistry is because Basil is a worthy opponent of Flynn, a nemesis who matches Flynn in presence and charisma.


  15. Levasseur Fan says

    Marvellous article. Love the comparison to Cool Hand Luke. I hadn’t thought of it that way but it is very apt. Poor Errol.


  16. Sally says

    I heard the story that Basil went up to Errol on the set of Captain Blood and said “you are not worth the $500 a week,” which provoked Errol into making the duel a real needle match, is that true?


    • Ellen Foley says

      Curtiz the director and Flynn’s nemesis ordered Baz to do something because tide was coming in,and time was running out to get duel sequence filmed that day.So Baz taunted him with a salary-related barb,Flynn flew at him,duel was thus completed.Apparently both actors experienced cuts from the unprotected tips of the swords,so ordered by Mr Curtiz,a well-known “SOB” to his actors,esp Flynn.


  17. Pedro says

    I’d also like to ask where you got the stills, they aren’t just monochromed colour versions are they? They’re very good.


  18. Neve, enjoyed your thoughtful piece. I think Flynn definitely gets underrated as an actor because of the legend overshadowing the work – as you say, a lot of work clearly went into that swashbuckling, and your comparison with dancing is spot on. Watching some of his other types of films, like the remake of ‘The Dawn Patrol’ which you mention here or ‘The Sisters’ with Bette Davis, or ‘They Died with their Boots On’, I’ve been impressed by how much more to him as an actor there is than his looks and charisma – and he certainly did make a great team with Rathbone.


  19. I’m in the middle of reading Errol Flynn’s autobiography and think you really nailed it by saying he thought with his genitals. His machismo really shines through. Thanks for this very thoughtful and well-written analysis!


  20. Glynis says

    Absolutely wonderful piece. Poor Flynn was quite a martyr in some ways and I find it so intriguing that Basil seems to have seen through his legend more than most


  21. Claude Rains says

    Very good article. But is it “crass” to debate their sexuality?


  22. Roberta says

    Lovely article and lovely pictures! Are they stills? I’ve never seen some fo them before.


  23. Margaret G says

    I’ve also been enjoying browsing the other blogs in the blogathon. So much talented writing!


  24. Margaret G says

    Lovely thoughtful piece. I absolutely agree with your assessment of Errol Flynn. I wish he had said something of his relationship with Rathbone.


  25. Ellen Foley says

    How does this blog have anything to do with homosexuality?People have chemistry on screen and work well together,respect each other’s talents.They were well matched in Adv and Capt Blood,tho’ Baz had little time in Blood,he made the movie for me!Please don’t rush to judgment!


    • Ellen Foley says

      Much has been said about the perfect marriage of BR & OR,and everyone can take it all w/grain of salt.But no one’s ever said ADV RH or Capt Blood or Dawn Patrol perfect pairing of hero vs villain portrayed “gayness” and it upsets me to see someone protesting how offended they are when no such statement is made.Flynn’s widow has been on TCM saying how much he wanted to be seen as serious actor,Olivia said she started to write him as such,too,but he died before it could be sent.Flynn’s swagger belied a little boy bucking the system,as was stated elsewhere,sorry for stepping on toes.What either man was offscreen,Baz thought he kept out of the scandal sheets by not living like the Errols of the movie colony,but the only thing that counts was he did as he was told,showed up,rehearsed,helped co-stars learn their parts,was well-thought of.I rant on,but had to protest allegations of homosexuality taken when “bromance” is topic.Does someone mean to say Brad & George working well together in “Oceans” means gayness?NO!


  26. Beautiful and thoughtful piece, Neve. If you go inside the walls of Warner Bros. and walk the soundstages, you get a sense of the pressure Flynn felt every day of his professional life there. A healthy anti-authority streak made him rebel in childish little ways, but the only way to survive in a world with J.L. and Iron Mike Curtiz was to work like a coal miner six days a week, and Flynn did that well into the 1940s until his off-screen troubles overwhelmed his work ethic. By that time he was a self-sustaining brand that could survive mediocre performances and pictures.

    You make me rethink the chemistry between Errol and Baz. I’ve taken it for granted for decades but when Robin Hood barges into the feast and confronts Prince John and Sir Guy, you’re right–there’s a sizing up going on between protagonist and antagonist, particularly Robin Hood fact finding about what Sir Guy is all about.

    I believe Baz felt he had no alternative but to denegrate Errol in later years because of the way the questions would come in about their association. Even today the media presents a sneer and loads of pre-judging when I’m asked about Flynn, that he was drunk and lazy, and what was Rathbone going to do, waste his breath arguing in favor of Errol Flynn and how hard EVERYONE worked back in the old days? Baz was a smart guy and often impatient in such situations and knew Flynn had brought all this on himself. Much easier to just go along and get the question and answer over with and move on to some other topic. Plus Baz could take the wind out of a questioner’s sails pretty quick by saying Power was a better swordsman. It’s easy to see that happening.


  27. Pingback: Day Two: DYNAMIC DUOS in Classic Film blogathon | Once upon a screen...

    • Claude Rains says

      “I also dislike your choice of deliberately misleading photographs”

      Does anyone have any idea what this lady is talking about?


      • GRETCHEN says

        Next, she’ll be telling us these “misleading photographs” were DOCTORED, and aren’t even actually OF Basil!! DUDE…they’re STILL-PHOTOS from the movie. What is SO “deliberately misleading” about them?? That’s how RIDICULOUS she is…I seriously doubt her mental stability— or at least, her level of INTELLECT.

        I mean, she doesn’t even know what SCREEN-CHEMISTRY is!!! If the word “chemistry” is used, it MUST be a “SEXUAL” reference! It couldn’t POSSIBLY mean ANYTHING ELSE. She reads something (which SHE considers to be) either “dirty” or “negative” into EVERY comment, and EVERY essay on this blog…go FIGURE!!

        Oh, and by the WAY…the word “GAY” also means “HAPPY”; just in-case she wants to read anything into THAT if it’s used in a re-print of an old-time article or something, in the FUTURE. 🙂


  28. Alyssia says

    Bail Rathbone did not have chemistry With Errol Flynn. He was just an actor doing his job.You know absolutely nothing about him. I am so tired of fans suggesting he was homosexual. Please do some research.


    • Claude Rains says

      Alyssia look up the words “screen chemistry” – and then ask the blogmistress to delete your comment 🙄


    • Probably best to also google “Queer Film Theory,” Alyssa. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an implication that the actors or even characters are gay. It is simply another way of looking at a film. It’s pretty clear the author has done quite a bit of research, not only about Rathbone and Flynn as actors, but of film studies in general.


    • Hot Chick says

      It’s obvious the writer doesn’t mean that kind of chemistry but even if she did – so what? There’s nothing wrong with speculating. I would;t love Baz any less if he and Errol had been at it like stoats while making Robin Hood!


      • GRETCHEN says

        HIGH-FIVE!!! 🙂

        I’ve ALWAYS felt that Basil was POSSIBLY bi-sexual (which to ME makes a man even SEXIER), but whether or NOT it was true should make NO difference in how WELL he could ACT!! Why should it matter SO much?? A LOT of male actors are either gay or bi. My OTHER faves, Jeremy Brett and Vincent Price, were BOTH bi—does that now make them INTOLERABLE as human beings, or ANY LESS wonderful or sexy as actors??? I think NOT!


        • Ellen Foley says

          The 1st time I ever saw him in a film,one of the SH series,felt that possibility and don’t feel he should be ashamed,either.He was in a profession with many others in same boat,during times when nothing could be said.Jeremy and Vince,too always thought so.It’s when someone overreacts when asked,start bashing others (Boy George outing someone,too rather than shutting his big trap,I mean,he had no right to name names,it wasn’t a witch hunt,but in his case,another 1st letter).H’wood execs killed too many careers with their viciousness,wonder if Baz’s rebellion in leaving SH series after series cancelled by Universal,which he prob considered slavery the reason for Wasserman’s “you’ll never” be big in Tinsel Town again statement.


  29. Elaine Drury says

    Very good article! And very good point. One tends to accept the image if lazy Errol without really thinking about it, but I suspect you are right and that is just as much a simplification as most myths


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