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Wicked Ways

Years ago, when Parker Tyler memorably instructed us in the magic and myth of the movies, he indicated something about the archetypal power of film and the status of the stars as our own popular pantheon.  The godlike qualities of star power were made manifest when Errol Flynn personified them as the ultimate swashbuckling man in tights, and even more as the object of lurid publicity, lubricious gossip, and sinister speculation.  The twilight of the gods that we associate with Gloria Swanson-as-Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950) was perhaps even more tragically personified by Flynn when he paid the price for his compulsive dissipation, dying in Vancouver in 1959 of a heart attack at the age of 50.  Flynn’s disintegration was so complete that his death was a good career move; at the end, he had no place to go, except to a Valhalla of celluloid.  Flynn, who had wanted to be buried under an oak tree on his Jamaica estate, wound up instead in the Garden of Everlasting Peace in Forest Lawn, his casket covered in yellow roses, and his eulogy intoned by Jack Warner.  The contrast between his humble wish and the cornball reality points up the contradictions that haunted his life.

Errol Flynn excelled at adventure movies of the type that Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Jr., had established.  We remember him swinging on ropes, dueling with Basil Rathbone or someone, and always winning, and generally...

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