Title: The Last Of Robin Hood
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Major Players: Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Dakota Fanning
Out Of Five: 2.5
The film industry, as we know, loves nothing more than a bit of naval gazing: put another way, it rather enjoys making movies about itself. That even applies when the story concerned isn’t especially flattering. February sees the release of Trumbo, about the Hollywood blacklist, which I reviewed at the London Film Festival in October. And the carryings-on of some of its more notorious stars aren’t immune either, although their appeal is perhaps more limited.
The Last Of Robin Hood did the rounds of some of the smaller film festivals last year, after a screening at Toronto on 2013. But only a limited distribution in the States followed and now it eventually arrives in the UK on DVD tomorrow. And here it’s not only a somewhat salacious story about a big name, but one that may not mean a great deal to a younger audience. Errol Flynn.
It’s based on the last few years of his life, long after he’d made his name in swashbucklers of the late 30s and 40s, Robin Hood being the one always associated with him. Away from the screen, Flynn (Kevin Kline) was always known for being something of a hell-raiser with a taste for the bottle. It’s his liking for under-age girls that’s the focus of the film, especially his relationship with aspiring actress and dancer, the teenage Beverley Aadland (Dakota Fanning). And her mother Florence (Susan Sarandon), who becomes complicit in their affair, makes matters even more complex.
Essentially, this is the combination of two familiar stories. First, there’s the stage door mom, pushing her daughter to do well, regardless of whether she really wants to or has any talent. A bit like Mama Rose in Gypsy, really. Florence had to give up her fledgling dancing career after a car accident, so now she’s devoting herself to turning Beverley into a star and living her own life through her daughter’s. And she will do anything and everything to further the girl’s interests, sacrificing her marriage and, ultimately, her relationship with Beverley.
Then there’s the Lolita story. The idea is taken to the enth degree, with Flynn expressing an admiration for the book and even discussing with Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) the possibility of playing Humbert in the film version. Trouble is, Beverley’s screen test hasn’t gone well and Flynn insists he and the girl come as a package. He makes no bones about his liking for young girls, although even he’s surprised when he discovers the one he’s been sleeping with is just 15. His eyebrows arch even further when he realises that she has a forged birth certificate to show that she’s 18 – and he learns all of this from her mother! Of course, the certificate as just another way of furthering her daughter’s career: being too young was getting in the way, after all.
If you like a bit of Hollywood history, this is of passing interest, given Flynn’s reputation. But the film seems to have cleaned up the story to the point of sanitising it. Yes, he nearly always has a glass in his hand and we see him injecting himself once, but that’s about it. We never see him more than a little tipsy and, apart from early on the in film, he behaves himself around his teenage girlfriend. But Kevin Kline’s performance rather makes up for that, and at least is a great distraction: not only is he remarkably like Flynn to look at, but he also has the elegance and roguish twinkle in his eye to go with it. The irony is that Kline was about 65 when this was made and looks far healthier than photographs taken of Flynn in his final year. His matinee idol looks are long gone and, when he died at the age of just 50, the medical examiner reputedly commented that he had the body of somebody in their 70s.
Even though this has been dressed up to look more acceptable than it really is, there’s still a seedy and rather sad little story just beneath the surface. We’re encouraged to empathise with both Beverley and Flynn, but less so with her mother. Yet it’s not his death that makes him a sad figure, but his visible decline. He may not have been the greatest actor, but he certainly had charisma and presence on the screen and it took him a long way. Throughout the film, when asked about his health, his stock answer is “never better”. Anybody with eyes to see knows that it’s some way from the truth and, despite the captions tying up the loose ends, you can’t help but suspect you’ve seen a film that isn’t so much rose tinted as the loudest shade of magenta.
The Last Of Robin Hood is released on DVD on Monday, 14 December and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 17 December.