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Errol Flynn vs. John Barrymore (not what you think)


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Not comparing acting styles(apples to oranges in a way) but, how we view their lives, their careers...while watching Grand Hotel the other night, it hit me....John Barrymore was not a young man...in fact, in 1932, he was...50! He had love scenes with Greta Garbo, but no one seems to complain he was 23 years older than Garbo(at least I haven't heard/read complaints) He doesn?t even look his age at this time...

50....what is the big deal that he was 50 in 1932? What does that have to do with Errol Flynn? Well...That is the age Errol was when he died(Steve McQueen was only 50 when he died too... but I am not going to derail my own thread! ;)

John Barrymore, at the age of 50 in 1932 was a HUGE star, and while he was soon to go downhill, he had many(good) movies ahead of him. Barrymore might not be the lead anymore, but he was still in quality films close to the end of the line,(He died in 1942, at the age of 60), Marie Antoinette(1938), Midnight, (1939) What is a worse last film? Barrymore in Playmates(1941), or Flynn in Cuban Rebel Girls (1959)? How many Errol Flynn films from the 50?s can you name or have you seen?

My point is, that while I think people think it?s a shame Errol Flynn died at 50, I don?t know that he feels or seems to be nearly the tragic figure John Barrymore is thought to be. Is it because Flynn seems so full of life, as someone that enjoyed life, we forgive the fact he burned the candle at both ends and the middle too? Or is it because Flynn wasn?t considered a great actor(I personally think his acting is very underrated) and Barrymore was once considered THE actor, and therefore wasted his talent in his later years because of being an alcoholic?

Interesting that Barrymore and Flynn were good friends, and Flynn even portrayed him in Too Much Too Soon (1958)

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I consider both Barrymore and Flynn to be tragic figures. Both were talented (though Barrymore's reputation as an actor was always much greater), charismatic leading men. One was billed for a while by Warners as the world's greatest actor, while the other was regarded as the king of film swashbucklers. Both were also also cursed with insecurities and dual natures, burning themselves out with drink (Flynn adding to it with narcotics), ruining their looks, health, and careers in the process.

 

Barrymore was still getting employment at the end, largely lampooning himself in grotesque self-parodies. There is more than a little self-contempt in his final performances. Flynn had a brief comeback playing alcoholics at the end of his career, including, as you mentioned, a touching portrait of old friend Barrymore in Too Much Too Soon (primarily touching becuase there is so much of the real Flynn in that portrait). After that brief splurge of work, however, he was essentially unemployable in Hollywood and in his final weeks was seeking to sell his yacht, the Zaca, because he needed the money.

 

Flynn's gradual suicide took ten years less than Barrymore's. I suspect he worked at it harder.

 

When you look at Barrymore's brilliance in Svengali or Grand Hotel, then see how quickly he had deteriorated by the time of Romeo and Juliet less than five years later, it's tragic. Likewise, a comparison of Flynn as he was in his youthful swashbuckling prime, in Robin Hood or The Sea Hawk, one of the most athletically graceful and magnetic of all screen presences, the incarnation of romance and adventure, as opposed to those final years of self loathing dissipation, again, you are filled with a sense of a man who had once had so much and then worked so hard to throw it all away.

 

Films have left us the images of these two men, both in their glory years as well as those final years of physical and emotion decline, as grim testimony to the internal demons that plague all addicts. Since these two men had so much more talent and beauty than many others, however, their decline seems to me to be just that much more tragic.

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John Barrymore was playing Hamlet on stage at least into his 40s. He was the great Hamlet of his generation, and the stage can be more forgiving about age. Blanche Yurka played Gertrude, his mother -- and she was five years younger!

 

Errol Flynn dabbled in some stage work in the early 1930s, but he didn't pursue it, didn't really have that great training and discipline that comes from stage work, and that was in Barrymore's bones. Flynn was a great presence on screen but IMHO was probably at his best with a sword in his hand. I know very little about the tragedy in either man's life.

 

 

 

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> John Barrymore, at the age of 50 in 1932 was a HUGE star, and while he was soon to go downhill, he had many(good) movies ahead of him. Barrymore might not be the lead anymore, but he was still in quality films close to the end of the line,(He died in 1942, at the age of 60), Marie Antoinette(1938), Midnight, (1939) What is a worse last film? Barrymore in Playmates(1941), or Flynn in Cuban Rebel Girls (1959)? How many Errol Flynn films from the 50s can you name or have you seen?

 

Off the top of my head:

 

KIM

AGAINST ALL FLAGS

THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE

THE WARRIORS

TOO MUCH, TOO SOON

THE SUN ALSO RSES

ISTABUL

MARA MARU

THE ADVETURES OF CAPTAIN FABIAN

CUBAN REBEL GIRLS

THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN

MONTANA

ROCKY MOUNTAIN

 

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It's been years since I've read it, and I'm not sure if it survived the move, but I did read the book, "Goodnight, Sweet Prince" about John, and it's pretty depressing. You get the impression that Barrymore didn't care one way or the other as to how his excesses were affecting him. He did realize how they were affecting others, but that didn't matter either. Like Beethoven, there were those who loved him regardless, and he appreciated it somehow in his own fashion.

 

 

I often wondered about a little trick done in *Dinner at Eight* in which John, doing somewhat of a self parody, and while going about the business of commiting suicide, settles down in that chair to let the gas overtake him, only to sit up and readjust the lamp for the best lighting effect. Was that in the script? Or a Barrymore idea...

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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*Sepiatone wrote: I often wondered about a little trick done in Dinner at Eight in which John, doing somewhat of a self parody, and while going about the business of commiting suicide, settles down in that chair to let the gas overtake him, only to sit up and readjust the lamp for the best lighting effect. Was that in the script? Or a Barrymore idea...*

 

Somewhere (can't recall the source, unfortunately) I read that the original plans for Larry Renault's suicide was to let him die in a squalid heap, emphasizing the ugliness of his death. It was, I believe, Barrymore's own idea to let him go out the way he does, posing in a chair with a light shining on his left profile, emphasizing the actor's best known feature. It's an effective touch as, through the magic of lighting, his sagging, aged features appear to disappear and he looks, ironically in death, as though as has regained his youthful beauty once again.

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