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TomJH

Watching 1950's Rocky Mountain, And The Sad Change in A Man

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I watched Rocky Mountain this evening, a solid, spare 1950 Warner Brothers western, the last of eight films of that genre in which Errol Flynn would star.

Flynn is the only actor of the Hollywood Golden Age (or beyond it, for that matter) who was a convincing performer in three action genres, costume films, war dramas and westerns. He appeared in some noteworthy efforts of each genre, too.

Rocky Mountain was made at a time when the actor's career was in flux. No longer top box office, Warners had reduced the budgets on his films. This particular film, directed by veteran William Keighley, is quite good, a tale of a band of Confederates, led by Flynn, who, in the dying days of the Civil War, are sent by Robert E. Lee to California to try to stir up rebellion and, perhaps, pull some of the Union troops away from the battlefields out East.

The film was filmed near Gallup, New Mexico, and benefits from, among other things, its stark black and white photography which is appropriate for its rather somber tale. This is a bit of an odd man out among Flynn westerns, though, certainly for those who remember the bright Technicolor and high spirits of a Dodge City or San Antonio.

But also in contrast to those earlier horse operas is the star himself. An older, more weary looking Flynn (who, according to co-star Sheb Woolley spent much of the time off camera drinking heavily) relies not at all upon his patented charismatic charm. This time it's a low key, reflective Flynn, with a touch of sadness about him that I suspect was a reflection of the actor himself at this point in his life. His glory days as a film star were behind him now and his future looked increasingly uncertain, both professionally and, with his alcohol and drug intake, personally.

Rocky Mountain has a slightly darker portrayal than the audience is used to from Flynn. At one point he will cold bloodedly shoot down a Union soldier when he pulls out a gun. You could call it self defense, if you like, but it's an action you would never have seen from the youthful, brimming with virtue Flynn of ten years before in Dodge City.

That reflective sense of sadness in Flynn works well for his character in this film. It will lead directly to a fateful decision that he will make which will lead to the film's exciting, as well as poignant, ending.

Throughout his life Flynn got little credit for his acting ability. He was regarded as a flamboyant playboy actor who made a lot of headlines for his at times yachting, brawling and womanizing lifestyle. But there was more to this complex man than that. He liked to philosophize about God and man's place in the cosmos. He was a man who read all kinds of literature throughout his life, and had, indeed, written two books himself (Beam Ends and Showdown). But his Hollywood lifestyle and self indulgent self destructive behaviour had robbed him of his capacity to sit down and concentrate on writing by this stage in his life.

Flynn had always wanted to be a writer but he increasingly lacked the disciple to work at it when there were so many other activities around to easily distract him. Even though he had demonstrated a remarkable ability to live a larger than life adventurous existence, I strongly suspect he regarded himself as a failure for not having worked harder at the writing.

This perception of melancholy shows up in his Rocky Mountain performance. I suspect, if the studio had been so inclined, with this minimalist portrayal as a template, that he was an actor who could have prospered in film noir, with darker, more complex characterizations. Certainly Flynn was tired of his heroic screen image and would have probably welcomed the change in screen image.

Alas, it was not to be. But his darker portrayal in Rocky Mountain gives hints of what may have been. It's a good little western anyway, with two solid action sequences, with one of them a rather memorable ending, with Flynn in true heroic form.

But perhaps it's that haunting sense of melancholy in an understated, world weary Errol Flynn that stays with you as much as anything else and makes you think that his later career could have offered so much more.

rocky-mountain-31.jpg

 

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Thanks for the great write-up Tom! I actually own this movie as it's part of the Errol Flynn Westerns collection that I own, but it's the only one of the collection that I haven't watched.  I should probably do that one of these days.  I've mentioned this multiple times, but I find it hard to watch Errol's films from the last part of his career.  Aside from the obvious changes in his physical appearance, he seems to play characters that are a little more weary, a bit cranky, just tired--which I suppose reflects the real Errol Flynn.  However, as I've seen more of his later films, I find that I do like how he's evolved his image.  It'd be ridiculous if a 40-something Errol Flynn continued to try to be the young, lithe, energetic Robin Hood.  Perhaps Flynn could have done a sequel along the lines of Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn's Robin Hood.  He would have been excellent as Robin Hood, 30 years later.  I do think Errol did some of his best acting towards the end of his career, even if the films turned out to be less than stellar.  Errol's parts were always the highlight of the film.  He's great in Mara Maru.  I also really liked him in Too Much, Too Soon and The Sun Also Rises.  It's a shame that Flynn's lifestyle caught up to him at 50.  I think he really could have had a renaissance of some sorts, if only his mind and body were in better shape.  He would have been a great character actor.  He could have also gotten himself back into shape and taken on some older romantic leading man parts a la Cary Grant.  Even in The Sun Also Rises, he showed that he still had charm and panache. 

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Well, at least with Rocky Mountain you've got one of Errol's better films of the '50s to look forward to, Speedy. While it's a solid little western, with a bit more work on the screenplay and stronger development of some of its characters it might have even been memorable.

Still you do see Flynn co-starring with Big Boy Williams for the last time, and there is a sensitivity in his scenes with Patrice Wymore whom, of course, he would soon afterward marry. Max Steiner's splendid musical contributions to the film cannot be underestimated. And the film has an emotionally stirring finale (the best of any of his westerns, in my opinion, outside of They Died With Their Boots On).

The film was also made at a point in the actor's career in which, while the physical and spiritual decline of Flynn was apparent, he was still capable of delivering an effective performance which he does, indeed, do in low key fashion in Rocky Mountain. Still, if you're a Flynn fan, it's sad to see him on that decline. But, as I said in my OP, that touch of melancholy about the actor adds to the depth of his portrayal.

Errol+Flynn+in+the+conclusion+of+Rocky+M

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Sadly, it's the ONLY Flynn Western I haven't seen.  And like the others, I'll bet it's pretty good in spite of the fact that Flynn always seemed an odd choice as a Western "hero" to me.  Would be similar(in a way) to JOHN WAYNE being the "hero" in a British costume epic.  Or a British Swashbuckler.  ;)

Sepiatone

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7 hours ago, speedracer5 said:

Even in The Sun Also Rises, he showed that he still had charm and panache. 

Yes!

I won't lie, that scene in the hotel room with him and Tyrone Power, where Errol's sitting on the bed and they're smiling at each other...I started crying. Doubly so when I remembered this was one of the last films either of them would ever make.

Errol makes me unbelievably happy and breaks my heart at the same time.

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6 minutes ago, Sepiatone said:

Sadly, it's the ONLY Flynn Western I haven't seen.  And like the others, I'll bet it's pretty good in spite of the fact that Flynn always seemed an odd choice as a Western "hero" to me.  Would be similar(in a way) to JOHN WAYNE being the "hero" in a British costume epic.  Or a British Swashbuckler.  ;)

Sepiatone

Flynn would have agreed with you, Sepia. He thought it ridiculous to cast him in westerns.

But the American public clearly disagreed, ignoring his accent and concentrating, instead, upon his romantic/heroic screen image in western garb. Flynn was the ONLY non-American born star of his time that the U.S. public ate up in westerns.

Besides, I can't think of any other actor who would have been more perfect casting as Custer than Flynn in They Died With Their Boots On. Like Flynn the real Custer was also fearless, headstrong and reckless.

You may be surprised by his performance in Rocky Mountain. He's far more rugged in appearance (particularly in his early unshaven scenes) and seems far more of a real westerner here than he did in his Dodge City days as a glamourous film star.

By the way, while I agree that Wayne would have been ludicrous in a swashbuckler, Flynn sells himself far more convincingly in the genre for which the Duke remains a legend.

Rocky+Mountain+-+inside.jpg

 

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12 minutes ago, SunAndMoon said:

Yes!

I won't lie, that scene in the hotel room with him and Tyrone Power, where Errol's sitting on the bed and they're smiling at each other...I started crying. Doubly so when I remembered this was one of the last films either of them would ever make.

Errol makes me unbelievably happy and breaks my heart at the same time.

errol-flynn_sun-also-rises.jpg

"B u n g ho, old boy!"

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Y'know, I never did say he was ludicrous cast in Westerns, just an odd choice.  And too, I did like him in his other westerns, and as ridiculous HE thought it was to cast him in the genre, I STILL think he pulled it off better than CAGNEY or BOGART ever did!  ;)

Sepiatone

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1 hour ago, TomJH said:

errol-flynn_sun-also-rises.jpg

"B u n g ho, old boy!"

You're making me smile and tear up at the same time.

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I don't think there's anyone who isn't deeply touched by Errol Flynn.

There seem to be a few individuals whose inner self reaches through time & space, as if we somehow recognise ourselves-or who we want to be-or the best traits of humanity-in them. (Marilyn Monroe is one of them)

Flynn is always gorgeous, that's not it. What we see & perceive as "sadness" is really just the human face aging. RBF is the new acronym. Everyone's face goes from electric, bright, smiling energy to darkness, lines, downturned mouth and generally "sad" appearance as they age.

It has more to do with Flynn himself. We all read body language (especially in a movie) and there is something about his expressions, how he carries himself, his dancelike movements and command of his body that appeals subliminally to us. This does not distract us from his acting, it only "adds" to it, which is what makes him such an effective player.

We recently screened the Eddie Cantor variety movie THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS '43. I was happy to see MrTiki smiling and spontaneously applaud after Flynn's song & dance. Don't know if he was dubbed, but he was just great in even a stupid fluff number. Great enough to touch a male viewer who has zero interest or knowledge of Flynn except an occasional movie and several varied photos in my office. (my current desktop pic) Annex%20-%20Flynn,%20Errol%20(Captain%20Blood)_05.jpg
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3 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

Y'know, I never did say he was ludicrous cast in Westerns, just an odd choice.  And too, I did like him in his other westerns, and as ridiculous HE thought it was to cast him in the genre, I STILL think he pulled it off better than CAGNEY or BOGART ever did!  ;)

Sepiatone

Bogart is awful in Virginia City.  He sounds like Humphrey Bogart doing a Speedy Gonzalez impression.  Don't even get me started on that mustache.

As much as I love Bogart, he was awful at accents.  His own accent is so distinctive and pronounced, that it is hard for him to try his hand at another and be believable.

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2 hours ago, TikiSoo said:

I don't think there's anyone who isn't deeply touched by Errol Flynn.

There seem to be a few individuals whose inner self reaches through time & space, as if we somehow recognise ourselves-or who we want to be-or the best traits of humanity-in them. (Marilyn Monroe is one of them)

Flynn is always gorgeous, that's not it. What we see & perceive as "sadness" is really just the human face aging. RBF is the new acronym. Everyone's face goes from electric, bright, smiling energy to darkness, lines, downturned mouth and generally "sad" appearance as they age.

It has more to do with Flynn himself. We all read body language (especially in a movie) and there is something about his expressions, how he carries himself, his dancelike movements and command of his body that appeals subliminally to us. This does not distract us from his acting, it only "adds" to it, which is what makes him such an effective player.

We recently screened the Eddie Cantor variety movie THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS '43. I was happy to see MrTiki smiling and spontaneously applaud after Flynn's song & dance. Don't know if he was dubbed, but he was just great in even a stupid fluff number. Great enough to touch a male viewer who has zero interest or knowledge of Flynn except an occasional movie and several varied photos in my office. (my current desktop pic) Annex%20-%20Flynn,%20Errol%20(Captain%20Blood)_05.jpg

I'm pretty sure that Flynn sang his own part in Thank Your Lucky Stars.  The only part he doesn't sing is the operatic singing at the end which he straight out says isn't him. 

He also sings in Never Say Goodbye and Montana.

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I have this photo as the background on my phone.

ac-Errol-Flynn.jpg

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4 hours ago, speedracer5 said:

I'm pretty sure that Flynn sang his own part in Thank Your Lucky Stars.  The only part he doesn't sing is the operatic singing at the end which he straight out says isn't him. 

He also sings in Never Say Goodbye and Montana.

Yes, it's clearly Flynn's own singing voice in all three films, as well as when he sang Lily of Laguna whole doing a soft shoe in 1955's Lilacs in the Spring. For that matter he also sings a few notes while strumming a guitar near the beginning of San Antonio.

Actually Flynn acknowledges the operatic voice coming out of him at the end of Thank Your Lucky Stars isn't his when he says, "Oh, that voice is so divine. I only wish it was mine," then shrugs at the camera and resumes "singing" once again. The man could enjoy himself while playing the ham, the irony being that he was on trial for statutory rape while this mugging was happening but you wouldn't know he had a care in the world when you watch him in this film.

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Enjoyed immensely reading your very insightful post on Flynn, Tom!

I keep thinking about Richard Dreyfuss once saying something about Flynn's ability to make believable on film, the most outrageous exploits written up by authors like Rafael Sabatini, in many of those Warners adventure flicks. I bought the big book with all his films, when I was a teen and would enjoy reading about them and the whole background stories of his career. The beginning part about him coming to America and life with Lily Damita all the way up to his odd ending with Beverly Aadland, still does not diminish his natural abilities on screen and as a serious actor. I don't think Flynn really appreciated his own talents, and was dismissive of them, not realizing he had something intrinsically that others did not, which was not just athleticism and looks but charm.

 

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Some wonderful posts on this thread.  However, there should be some kind of warning on SpeedRacer's cellphone background.  I think if it were the background on my cell, I'd be easily distracted from whatever navigating I'm attempting via cell phone.

 

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27 minutes ago, rosebette said:

Some wonderful posts on this thread.  However, there should be some kind of warning on SpeedRacer's cellphone background.  I think if it were the background on my cell, I'd be easily distracted from whatever navigating I'm attempting via cell phone.

So would I.

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6 hours ago, CaveGirl said:

Enjoyed immensely reading your very insightful post on Flynn, Tom!

I keep thinking about Richard Dreyfuss once saying something about Flynn's ability to make believable on film, the most outrageous exploits written up by authors like Rafael Sabatini, in many of those Warners adventure flicks. I bought the big book with all his films, when I was a teen and would enjoy reading about them and the whole background stories of his career. The beginning part about him coming to America and life with Lily Damita all the way up to his odd ending with Beverly Aadland, still does not diminish his natural abilities on screen and as a serious actor. I don't think Flynn really appreciated his own talents, and was dismissive of them, not realizing he had something intrinsically that others did not, which was not just athleticism and looks but charm.

 

Is the book The Films of Errol Flynn by Tony Thomas and Rudy Behlmer?  My father gave this to me for Christmas when I was 13, and my copy is falling apart.  I was in love with Errol when I first saw The Adventures of Robin Hood on syndicated TV at age 10.  A few years later, when The Partridge Family and David Cassidy were the rage, the same station ran Captain Blood.  That movie made me realize what pallid stuff my peers were idolizing.  I think Flynn fit the definition of star, a bright, meteoric presence; you believed he was Robin Hood or Captain Blood.  The face, the grace, the voice, the way with a line -- yet, he also burned out, all too soon, due to his own inner demons.  Reading the book was a bit of a shock to me, as I realized this idol had feet of clay.  Yet, I still have enormous respect for his talent, and also feel a sense of loss when I watch the later films, wondering what could have been if Flynn had chosen a more moderate lifestyle.  We get glimpses of the accomplished actor that could have emerged if he had had the self-discipline.  

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12 hours ago, rosebette said:

Is the book The Films of Errol Flynn by Tony Thomas and Rudy Behlmer?  My father gave this to me for Christmas when I was 13, and my copy is falling apart.

This book from Citadel Press is still available on Amazon. It's a must for Flynn fans, not only a comprehensive study of his films but with biographical sections, as well, for insights into this complex man's life.

Tony Thomas, who wrote the bio sections, was a huge Flynn fan and had met him for several interviews in the actor's final years. He was one of the first to realize that there was far more to Flynn than his superficial public image.

71-rB5ffWfL.jpg

Thomas would later produce two other Flynn books, From A Life Of Adventure: The Writings of Errol Flynn (edited by Thomas, various articles written by the actor, as well as selections from his books) and Errol Flynn The Spy Who Never Was (refuting the scandalous accusations made about Flynn from a notorious "biography" of the late '70s).

 

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Thanks Tom, I just bought a copy of that book, sans the beautiful dust cover. Never heard of it, but if I had would have discounted it thinking it was just a rehash of his films only. Glad you elaborated...

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On 7/11/2018 at 2:50 PM, rosebette said:

Some wonderful posts on this thread.  However, there should be some kind of warning on SpeedRacer's cellphone background.  I think if it were the background on my cell, I'd be easily distracted from whatever navigating I'm attempting via cell phone.

 

Since I primarily( and only) use my cell phone for making( and receiving) PHONE CALLS, Flynn's visage as "wallpaper" (surprising that a "nosediver" wouldn't know it's what that's called) wouldn't distract me at all.  ;) 

And sorry, TIKI, but I do know a lot of people who couldn't care less about Flynn, let alone be "touched" by him.  So let's be careful about generalizing our assumptions here.  But I know what you mean.  There was too much later in his life that I felt NObody ever deserved.

Sepiatone

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Errol Flynn Over The Years

sailing1930.jpg

1930. As a young pre-Hollywood adventurer sailing along the Great Barrier Reef on a seven month voyage.

588a9e3a1724938223d9bcbbdd5c0b98--errol-

1935. Newly married to Lili Damita, with the stardom of Captain Blood just around the corner.

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1940. Sharing a joke with Rudy Vallee at the premiere of Santa Fe Trail.

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1940. Sun Valley.

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1944. On location filming Objective Burma.

RockyMountBehindScenes.jpg

1950. Filming Rocky Mountain, with Patrice Wymore, his future wife.

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1956. With wife Patrice, son Sean and daughter Arnella.

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1959. Vancouver Airport, five days before his death.

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Circa 1941. Reputedly Errol Flynn's favourite photograph of himself  - on his schooner Sirocco.

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1958. This is the photograph of himself that the actor selected for the back cover of his autobiography, My Wicked Wicked Ways. Revealing that he chose an introspective, far from flattering image. Is this how he saw the real Flynn?

 

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Even the difference between 1950 and 1956 is surprising, as if he aged 20 years in about 6.

But Goldarn it, in his youth, maybe one of the most beautiful men who ever lived.

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1 hour ago, rosebette said:

Even the difference between 1950 and 1956 is surprising, as if he aged 20 years in about 6.

But Goldarn it, in his youth, maybe one of the most beautiful men who ever lived.

No argument there. ;)

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19 hours ago, rosebette said:

Even the difference between 1950 and 1956 is surprising, as if he aged 20 years in about 6.

But Goldarn it, in his youth, maybe one of the most beautiful men who ever lived.

1953 was a crucial year in Errol Flynn's life, for this was the year in which his own partially financed production of William Tell fell apart in August when Italian co-financiers' funds ran out, much to the shock of the actor. He had hoped this lavish production, shot on location in Italy, with Technicolor by Jack Cardiff, would be a comeback for him. He searched in vain afterward for someone else to provide funding. His alcohol (and drug) intake increased significantly in the years after this debacle, thus his aged appearance by the time of that 1956 photo above.

Here are a couple of images of Flynn as he appeared while making William Tell.

william-tell-unreleased-1953-guido-martu

Cardiff-Flynn-William-Tell-Candid.jpg

Apparently about 34 minutes or so of William Tell (without audio) currently exists in a vault in, I believe, Boston University. But there are legal entanglements. Roddy McDowall had once owned it (along with other Flynn material) and had made a stipulation in donating it that it "never be shown." Don't ask me why. I only know Flynn's ambitious unfinished project might prove to be fascinating viewing, sound or not.

Flynn must have still been reeling from this film's disaster five years later for he started off his autobiography writing about it. The actor had other financial disasters at the same time, learning, for example that his agent in the States (dying of cancer) had been living it up on his money, as well as his first wife tying up his assets in the U.S. over back alimony. As a result, Flynn found himself broke in Italy.

Flynn wrote in MY Wicked Wicked Ways of this grim period in his life:

"I believed I was washed up, finished.

I had a little kit that I carried around. It was the size of a medical kit. On it were the words FLYNN ENTERPRISES. Only I knew that inside of it was a tidy bar, with a bottle of vodka, two or three glasses and a bottle or two of quinine water. I had acquired a bible at last and carried it around with me.

When I went ashore, or called on the beach to see someone, I had my little brief case along. I was going to get security somewhere, somehow, out of something.

There I was in 1953, '54 and '55 into '56, Flynn Enterprises moving about Majorca and the south of France, kit in hand, asking myself, How did this happen? What are you doing? Who are you? How can a man live to his forty sixth or seventh year and then begin to ask himself questions. Who am I? What am I doing with this medical kit at my side? Where am I going? Is this the way a man should wind up?

Except for the few who were close to me, or dependent upon alimony or support from me, I was now, in the mid-1950's, to the general community a pretty much forgotten man. No pictures were coming out. None in recent years had been sensational successes.

So what? I had my own resources. One thing I always knew how to do: enjoy life. If I have a genius it is a genius for living.

I spent myself to the full, dissipating all that I wanted to, testing how much my constitution could stand, bending where others might break.

What the hell is the use? I thought. I can't pay off my indebtedness. I can't go back to America. Can't ride horses like I used to. I'm tired of swinging a sword. Let's drink and go skin diving. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll go down a hundred feet one day and not come up. I was full up with the whole act of living. Twice in my life I had been close to suicide. Now I was just living, drifting. I went around with a stubble beard and didn't give a damn.

Sitting around the Zaca in shorts, I had plenty of time to contemplate. I had now made about 45 pictures, but what had I become? I knew all too well: a phallic symbol. All over the world I was, as a name and personality, equated with sex. Playboy of the Western World. That was me. But what had I set out to become a long time before when I was young and the world opened to me? How far afield had I gone from my early ambitions? Does any man ever set out to become a phallic symbol universally, or does this not rather happen to a man in spite of himself?"

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