The story of The Last Of Robin Hood is fascinating, but the movie fails to fascinate. This movie is a lot like its star character Errol Flynn himself: so much to work with, such a waste of fine resources.
Errol Flynn was a movie star with a classy image but led the private life of R Kelly. The often misquoted expression “In like Flynn” refers to his acquittal in 1943 of charges that he had raped two teenage girls. He was guilty but got off on a combination of his good looks buttressed by a skilled attorney, Jerry Giesler.
The story of his last two years while in a relationship with an underage starlet is told point by often incorrect point, with the dull passion of a television show re-enactment.
How could this happen when directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland had such an embarrassingly rich trove of talent?
Kevin Kline was born to play Errol Flynn, just look at this picture:
Kline has always been told of his resemblance to Flynn. He declined to star in an Australian miniseries The Adventures Of Robin Hood, realizing it would come off as an “impersonation.” It is only due to his immense talent that he avoids, just barely, doing just that.
The casting of the Dakota Fanning as the starlet Beverly Aadland was just as inspired.
But with the crucial role of Florence Aadland, Beverly’s mother, the casting went vastly awry. Susan Sarandon is hardly “the perfect Florence” the directors insist. Not only does she lack the physical frumpiness and heft, her performance does not match the character I learned of in my research. She almost comes across as a “cool mom” rather than the unstable, dysfunctional, overbearing failed dancer that Florence really was.
This is not a criticism of Susan Sarandon. Her immense talent does not mean that she is appropriate for every role she may want to play. It is important that filmmakers not get carried away with the bankability of an actor at the expense of the story they want to tell.
I’ve assisted casting directors, and I tried to imagine who would have been a better fit for this role.
To my dismay, I realized there really isn’t an A-list actress who could have played Florence, apart from Meryl Streep, who shouldn’t have to play every maternal role. She and Sarandon seem to be the only bankable actresses in that age range who haven’t surgically altered their faces.
This is shameful. Shame on the actresses and their management teams who lack the courage to resist going under the knife for the sake of their careers. Shame on the celebrity industrial complex that is ready to castigate an actress who doesn’t appear more fit than the average woman. Shame on the executive producers who wouldn’t make the effort to find a non-bankable talented theater actress who would have served their story rather than their financially motivated focus groups.
When I considered this offense and wondered if this would have been an issue elsewhere, I immediately came up with a better choice.
France has an A-list star who would have been perfect to play Florence: Josiane Balasko. Ms. Balasko happens to be four years younger than Susan Sarandon.
While Kline gives an excellent performance, he appears far more physically fit and healthy than Flynn actually was. Flynn was very healthy, so healthy his body lasted longer than it should have. He was a heroin and morphine addict, an alcoholic, and his liver was barely functioning. The film mentions this, but not that the reason was hepatitis.
While making The Roots Of Heaven in 1958 one year before his death, the movie’s director John Huston described his appearance (from Jeffrey Meyer’s biography of Flynn and his tragic son Sean Inherited Risk)
his “face had a slighly disquieting aspect as if a thin layer of spongy tissue had been inserted between the skin and bone.”
The pictures below contrast the marked difference between the real Errol Flynn and Kline’s makeup:
It is curious that despite the writer-directors having gotten Beverly’s cooperation before her death, the movie seems to go to great pains to show her lack of talent. While hardly an entertainment prodigy, she was more accomplished than the movie implies. Her stage-mother pushed her into show business as early as she could. By age fourteen, she was an experienced singer with engagements in Las Vegas and was a leg model for Playboy.
She was a better singer than Fanning’s lame vocal performance displays.
Here is a clip of the real Beverly Aadland singing “Slowly:”
The text cards at the end of the movie not only show photographs of the real Beverly and Florence Aadland, they reveal that Florence really did publish a book about her daughter’s affair.
Le Movie Snob found a copy (autographed!) and read it to research this review.
The movie did not say that she published a second book.
While I didn’t have the budget or time to read this additional offering, I think it’s safe to assume from the title and cover art what it recounts.
Glatzer and Westmoreland were inspired by Florence’s first book which became well know when the author William Styron gave it a surprisingly positive review in Esquire in November, 1961. Styron wrote the introduction for a 1986 re-issue of the book:
This then became the inspiration for the one-woman Broadway play “The Big Love” which starred Tracey Ullman and was directed by Jay Presson Allen. It opened On March 3, 1991 and ran for only 41 performances. I agree that Florence would make a great character and can imagine Ullman could have ably portrayed her; unfortunately it was not well received.
Glatzer and Westmoreland believed this story could finally get the attention it deserves “in the fame-hungry age of Twitter, Reality TV, TMZ, LiLo, and the selfie….”
I find this pronouncement as sad as the inability to find a commensurate actress to play Florence.
Having learned of their motivations to make this movie, I think they’ve made some fundamental miscalculations:
First, Errol Flynn is not remembered as the dashing movie star he was in his prime, if he’s remembered at all.
Second, Styron had the observational authority to proclaim the original book “an American Masterpiece.” Without his ability to place this story in context, all that’s left is a tawdry story that is hardly shocking fifty years after the fact.
The filmmakers did not want to make any justification nor judgment for the couple’s relationship. They don’t.
However, it’s interesting to note that Kline was 67 and Fanning was 19 when the movie was filmed. That age difference of 47 years is far greater than the 33 year gap between Flynn and Beverly.
The movie has a scene where Flynn meets with director Stanley Kubrik (Max Casella), pitching himself and Beverly for the lead roles for his upcoming movie Lolita. According to Meyer, he could have pitched Florence as well; she ” was the real-life counterpart of Lolita’s viciously vigilant mother …without the trappings of respectability.”
The film is accurate in showing Flynn’s deft manipulation of Florence, threatening that Beverly’s age somehow “being” revealed would blackball her in Hollywood. Florence describes these conversations in her book but appears oblivious to how sinister the threat was:
‘It’s like this,’ he explained. ‘If it gets out that she’s underage, that you’ve been letting her work illegally, she’ll be blackballed from the studios.’ Errol was right. But I’d had to represent her as being over fifteen so she could accept all the adult movie parts and TV roles that were being offered to her.
In her book, she tells ghostwriter Tedd Thomey (played by Jason Davis) that she was aware that Flynn had raped a fifteen year old French girl in Monte Carlo in 1951 in addition to his earlier acquittal for the same crimes. She doesn’t blame her daughter for not sharing what happened with her, accurately shown in the movie, but she excuses it because “she was already thoroughly and impossibly in love with him.”
It sounds like Florence was too. Her book is quite the apologia to Flynn, proof of her willingness to sacrifice her daughter so she could bask in his limelight.
We had respect for each other and could talk turkey because we both had the same objective: we both wanted to see that Beverly stayed happy and got the best out of life.
Not even needing to read between the lines, this meant his helping Beverly with her career, marrying her, and starting a family with her.
…I was going to put up one hell of a fight to see that he married my daughter.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Errol wanted [a] baby more than anything else in the world.
They were going to get married, he had reversed his vasectomy for her so they could have a baby. Sadly, neither Flynn’s contemporaries nor biographers believes he ever intended to make good on those promises not least because he was still married.
Below is the first time Beverly appeared in a documentary to speak about Flynn. Here she explains their marriage plans:
Flynn was equally masterful in hiding his addictions from Florence:
…I can state flatly and truthfully that Errol did not use drugs. (emphasis hers) Not once during the two years that she was with him did Beverly see him take narcotics. Nor did I.
The movie doesn’t explain Flynn’s attraction for Beverly beyond her attractiveness and innocence. Florence insists her daughter’s preternatural intelligence played a significant role:
…Errol and Beverly had much more in common than their physical attraction for one another. Errol had an exceptional mind, intellectual, and he couldn’t stand to have people around him who weren’t equally sharp and intelligent. Despite her youth, she had a flair for good conversation and could discuss any subject with him, arguing very well on some political or social question of the day.
However, according to Meyer, Beverly’s behavior was quite childish, she would get upset if his reading a book deprived her of attention.
The movie includes a crucial scene where Flynn dictates a codicil of his will to Beverly that will provide for her. Kline makes Flynn’s gesture seem sincere, giving him the benefit of the doubt that alcohol may have interfered with his judgment that these handwritten scraps of paper might not be legally recognized.
While this proves to be true in the movie, Flynn did intend to provide for Beverly. In a letter to his lawyer Justin Folenblock written shortly before his death, he mentioned Beverly: “if the little bitch is still around when I kick off, a half a million bucks. She has been nice and kind to me, we have to take care of her.” This amounted to a third of his estate, the other two thirds were to go to his daughters Rory and Diedre. While this part of his will was drawn up, it was not notarized and declared invalid. The single page of the will mentioning Beverly mysteriously disappeared. The movie blames Folenblock for being a “sloppy lawyer.”
By the time of his death, Beverly was entirely dependent on Flynn. His passing made her furious with him “for abandoning her and forcing her to return to her wildly irresponsible mother.”
Here Beverly describes Flynn’s death not long before her own in 2010. Her version doesn’t exactly match the one depicted in the movie.
In the movie, Beverly is grieving, but not enraged.
Such anger would explain the false charges of rape she alleged against a boyfriend, Billy Stanciu who was fatally shot during their quarrel. Ultimately determined to be an accidental death, her version of events changed frequently, a bizarre mimicry of her late lover.
It was after this incident, that Florence was arrested for being drunk and naked in public, a scene depicted in the movie.
When Beverly died in on January 5, 2010 she was still in love with Errol Flynn. Her surviving husband, Ronald Fisher, said she once told him “if he was still around, I’d be with him.”
While it’s easy to write Flynn off as a pedophile who was able to get away with his reprehensible behavior because of his fame, I think this is an oversimplification.
I found an interesting perspective in the oddly bizarre 2013 documentary Are All Men Pedophiles?. It offers a fascinating explanation of pedophilia. Its premise is that pedophilia is misunderstood, which it is. It is explained as a sexual orientation, not unlike homosexuality. While this is a hard argument to make considering the abuse inherent with pedophilia, such questioning offers valuable insights. Specifically, pedophilia has three subcategories, the pedophilia subcategory refers to sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children.
Sexual attraction to adolescents is a different subcategory called hebophilia, and while accepted and encouraged in advanced ancient civilizations, like Greece, it has only become taboo in modern times. Hebophilia does not go against the laws of nature: women are able to reproduce by age sixteen, the physical and mental maturity of men lags behind women. In evolutionary terms, men prefer women at the beginning of their reproductive live to ensure the greatest number of possible offspring.
Western European and American culture has generally decided that the age of consent is eighteen primarily because that is the age when education is completed. This legal imposition conflicts with biological reality, a fissure cannily exploited by the media. Like homosexuality, pedophilia in its variations is not a conscious choice. One determining factor is childhood abuse which can stunt sexual development.
While the documentary inferred it was referring to sexual abuse, I postulate this refers to any kind of early childhood abuse. Flynn did experience childhood abuse, his mother resented and neglected him. Not only did this manifest in the mothering qualities he sought from his wives, but it explains his perennial attraction to adolescent girls; his own sexual maturity was damaged.
I don’t not recommend seeing The Last Of Robin Hood. Kline’s performance is worth the price of the ticket, and flawed man that he was, Errol Flynn does not deserve to be forgotten.