Adapted and expanded from Maxwell Anderson's play in dizzying Technicolor, "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" marked Flynn's second film with fiesty Bette Davis, and though much has been made of their mutual dislike during filming, their performances and acting styles ultimately created two very stubborn, but distinct characters at odds, and in love, with each other. Davis is far more theatrical in her corner, adding suitable physical nuances to her impression of a tormented Queen Elizabeth I; while Flynn's more naturalistic style plays Essex as a dashing, over-confident nobleman, and as wounded teenager in need of a good cuddle. (The scenes of affection between the two leads often have the physically imposing Flynn frequently resting his head close to Davis' bosom, with legs sprawled across the floor like an adoring puppy; it's an unusual stance for a male Hollywood star, and the emotional vulnerability of Flynn's performance must have boosted his female fan-base.)
The included featurette gives us a concise overview of the film's production, including outtake clips, and an interview with actress Nanette Fabray ("The Band Wagon"), who played Mistress Radcliffe, in her first feature film. There's also a nod to composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose elegant score adds more depth to the relationship between Elizabeth and Essex (although it's very eerie how the first bars of the gorgeous love theme bear close resemblance to the opening of the song "Blue Moon").
The archival goodies include a Movietone newsreel, covering steelhead trout, the Nazi invasion of Scandinavia, and new women's fashion (featuring "non-crushable linen, crisp and cool for summer"); and the patriotic cartoon "Old Glory," with Porky Pig in a non-gag short about the importance in learning the Pledge of Allegiance.
Patriotism is given a lighter (and goofier) spin via the Technicolor short, "The Royal Rodeo," which cast Our Gang member Scotty Beckett as the boy king of "Avania" who regains his kingdom when an American rodeo team, headed by singing John Payne (oh, the torture in being a lowly contract player), ousts the plotting regent with the aid of his cowboy and Indian troupe. Directed by top Warner Bros. editor George Amy ("Objective Burma!"), the short's of curio value for re-using sets from "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (which were subsequently altered again for "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex"), and the kitschy musical finale, "The Good 'ol American Way," with the closing line, "If your father liked it, it must be okay!" The short was written by Owen Crump, who years later would scribble the narration for the Errol Flynn travelogue, "Cruise of the Zaca," archived on "The Adventures of Robin Hood" DVD.
This Warner Bros title is available as part of the “Errol Flynn Signature Collection” that includes “Captain Blood,” “The Sea Hawk,” “They Died With Their Boots On,” “The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex,” and “Dodge City” and a bonus documentary disc “The Adventures Of Errol Flynn.”
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan