Friday, July 14, 2017

SWASHATHON: Adventures of Don Juan (1948)

Erroll Flynn introduces himself as Don Juan de Marana in Adventures of Don Juan.

THE SWASHATHON IS BACK! Fritzi of Movies, Silently is hosting the second version of her popular blogathon tribute to derring-do on the silver screen. It runs from July 14 - 17, and HERE is where you will find all the excitement.

"For the man, the sword; for the woman, the kiss."
- Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes), The Gay Divorcee

It may seem like a stretch to connect a 1934 musical to a 1948 swashbuckler, but as I rewatched Adventures of Don Juan for the Swashathon, I couldn't help but think that perhaps the emotional co-respondent Tonetti was descended from the famous fictional lover of yore. His line is the perfect motto for the character played by Errol Flynn in our film. His adventures all start and end with a beautiful woman, and involve many clashes of the blade.

As we leap with actor Flynn from film to film, it is his swashbucklers that stand out. Many actors display an athleticism. Many actors display a wry attitude. Many actors display a tender, romantic heart. Few actors combine these attributes with such polish and unselfconscious enthusiasm.

Don Juan surprises his enemy.
Errol Flynn about to turn into a leaping stunt double Jock Mahoney.

Errol Flynn was 26 when he was given the coveted leading role in 1935s Captain Blood. Flynn became a star as the wrongly convicted political prisoner turned pirate and leader of men. He had the goods and the audience responded. 1938s The Adventures of Robin Hood is a classic and, for many, Flynn is the definitive Robin of Sherwood. 1940s The Sea Hawk, a grand tale of deception and adventure presents a character of depth in Geoffrey Thorpe.

In 1948 Warners decided to put their 40 year old star in another costumer, Adventures of Don Juan. Was this decision a mistake? Was Flynn past the age of screen escapades? The finished product tells us the answer is "no" to both questions.

Don Juan about to be presented at the Spanish court.
Each player from lead to bit part is costumed beautifully.

Vincent Sherman, the actor turned director who is best known for interesting dramas such as The Hasty Heart, The Hard Way and Harriet Craig directed this, apparently his only foray into the adventure genre. Perhaps I would cut some of the buildup to action sequences, but overall there is nothing to complain about in Sherman's touch. He has a lovely way with intimate character scenes. George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz are credited with the screenplay which has many amusing and witty lines as one would expect from fellows who gave us such films as Libeled Lady, Nothing Sacred, I Love You Again and How to Steal a Million.

"Sweet lady, love is not measured in terms of time, only in ecstasy!"
I could be wrong, but I think Don Juan has said this more than once.

Don Juan roams Europe in search of happiness. Said happiness has everything to do with seducing as many beautiful women as possible. Our film opens with Don Juan climbing a balcony to meet his latest conquest. It is obvious in all of Don Juan's romantic encounters in the film that the ladies know he is playing a part, and they are more than happy to play their role in the charade. Lady Catherine is played by Mary Stuart and it was one of her better film showcases in 10 years in Hollywood for the actress. She would move to New York and in 1951 begin her 35 year reign as a Daytime TV icon playing Joanne Gardner (Barron, Tate, Vincente, Tourneur) on Search for Tomorrow.

Don Juan always finds a willing audience for his audacious tales.

Don Juan virtually leaps from his adventure with Catherine and her husband into the mistaken role as a bridegroom in a diplomatically arranged marriage to Lady Diana played by Helen Westcott. This exploit lands him in jail. Fortunately, he is released by Spain's ambassador to England, the Count de Polan played by Robert Warwick. The Count is an old family friend who offers Don Juan redemption and the chance to put his grace, wit and courage to work for Queen Margaret played by Viveca Lindfors. Recently arrived from Austria the Queen is in a difficult position as she tries to do right by her Spanish subjects. The ineffectual King Philip III played by Romney Brent is under the control of the power hungry Duke de Lorca played by Robert Douglas. Queen Margaret needs all the help she can get.

"All my life I seem to have been stumbling around as if in darkness. I am no longer."
I could be wrong, but I think Don Juan is falling for the beautiful and brave Sovereign.

Don Juan impresses the Queen with his candor and he is given the position of a fencing master at the Royal Academy. Don Juan is instantly popular with his students and their female relations. The ever-scheming Count de Lorca attempts to harness that popularity to his cause, but Don Juan remains loyal to the Queen.

Leporello: "Do you think I'd let you go roaming about the universe without me?" 

Don Juan is assisted in all of his endeavours by his loyal companion Leporello played by Alan Hale. Adventures of Don Juan would be the 13th and final film co-starring these old friends whose first cinematic pairing was 1937s The Prince and the Pauper.

Count D'Orsini objects to Don Juan's attentions to Donna Elena.
Ann Rutherford, David Bruce

The brazen de Lorca has become hasty in his treachery. He kidnaps Don Juan's mentor and benefactor the Count de Polan in order to control funds for his overthrow of the monarchy. Don Juan has become disgraced through another misadventure with a certain Donna Elena played by Ann Rutherford and her intended, Count D'Orsini played by David Bruce. Facing banishment or death, Don Juan ignores both in order to save de Polan and Queen Margaret.

Count de Lorca and Captain Alvarez harass and torture Count de Polan.
Robert Douglas, Raymond Burr, Robert Warwick

Don Juan must vanquish Count de Lorca and his henchmen Don Rodrigo played by Douglas Kennedy and the brutish Captain Alvarez played by Raymond Burr. Fortunately, Don Juan can depend on his crew, fencing master Don Lopez played by Fortunio Bonanova, court jester Sebastian played by Jerry Austin, and the entire student body of the Royal Fencing Academy.

"The sword is not for the traitor. You'll die by the knife"
First lesson of Royal Fencing Academy

The fencing scenes include not only fine action sequences between enemies, but some thoroughly entertaining choreographed scenes involving students of the Academy. The stunt double work is exemplary and seamless. All hail fencing master/choreographer Fred Cavens of Captain Blood, Anne of the Indies, The Black Swan, The Black Pirate, Cyrano de Bergerac, etc.

Be vewy, vewy quiet. Juan and Sebastian are hunting bad guys.
Errol Flynn, Jerry Austin

Cinematographer Elwood Bredell, whose proficiency in the dark world of noir as in The Killers and Phantom Lady, knew how to delight the eye with Technicolor in Romance on the High Seas and this beautiful production.

Max Steiner's score is simply glorious. It conjures up feelings of every swashbuckler ever enjoyed while still highlighting and supporting the screenplay and performances in Adventures of Don Juan.

The Academy saw fit to honour Adventures of Don Juan with well-deserved nominations and wins. Edward Carrere and Lyle B. Reifsnider were nominated in the category Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, color. The winner was MGMs production of Little Women.

Queen Margaret looks regal and radiant.
Viveca Lindfors in just one of the many lovely Oscar winning costumes.

The costumes! Oh, the costumes! Leah Rhodes, Travilla and Marjorie Best won the trophy for Best Costume Design, color. Each gown for each lovely lady is sublime. The colour, the material, the details and the accessories are all breathtaking! The costumes for the gentlemen are no less magnificent. If you are not interested in romance or derring-do, perhaps the fashion show that is Adventures of Don Juan will swash your buckle. 

I find Adventures of Don Juan a delightful movie starring the most exceptional swashbuckler of them all, Errol Flynn. The tongue-in-cheek story naturally and satisfactorily leads us to this:

En Garde!
Errol Flynn, Robert Douglas

and this...

Max Steiner's score is in the background, but I hear Harry Warren's At Last in my head.
Errol Flynn, Viveca Lindfors

If it is spectacle and humour and romance and thrills you seek in your swashbuckler then you can do no better than Adventures of Don Juan.


"My dear friend, there's a little bit of Don Juan in every man, and since I am Don Juan there must be more of it in me!"

Movie trivia:  Buffs will have no difficulty recognizing an early getaway of Juan and Leporello as a steal from The Adventures of Robin Hood. When our hero goes chasing after his latest conquest at the end of the film, it is his soon to be ex-second wife, Nora Eddington. She bears a striking resemblance to soon to be next wife Patrice Wymore.


  1. Until now I didn't know Errol Flynn had starred in a version of Don Juan! And, wow, this film has everything I like: Max Steiner, wonderful gowns, lavish sets and fencing. I hope I can see it soon!
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  2. I am sure you will love it just as much as I do. It's as if they made if just for us.

  3. Thanks so much for joining in! You're right about the costumes and Flynn: both look fantastic!

    1. A feast for the eyes! Dare I say, a feast for the weary that brightens the day?

      Thank you so much for giving us Swashathon II, Fritzi.

  4. Hi Caftan Woman. Good essay. Just a few weeks ago we went to ATT Park to watch a simulcast of the San Francisco Opera doing "Don Giovanni." As I watched Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (great name) and Erik Anstine as Don Giovanni and Leporello, I kept thinking of Errol Flynn and Alan Hale. There are many different ways to interpret Don Juan. I'm glad this version didn't end with him going to hell.

    1. Thank you.

      What a lovely evening that must have been. The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra used to present free concerts by the waterfront in the summer. Open air and beautiful music. What could top it?

      Indeed, this version of the legend is too likable to deserve the fate of the damned.

  5. Great write up! I have always been very fond of this film. Flynn showed he could still swash with elan and charm.

    1. So true. His natural gifts, combined with experience allow us to see a most assured performance.

  6. Nice job, as always! Wonderful write up on one of Flynn's best later swashbucklers. It's a very enjoyable film, with a great supporting cast; Viveca Lindfors, Raymond Burr and Una O'Connor in the same movie!? Fabulous!

    1. Thank you for the lovely compliment.

      We simply could not ask for anything more from a swashbuckling entertainment. Una!

  7. Where have I been that I've never seen this film? The costumes, the music, the sets, the cast – AND ERROLL FLYNN! Good night! This sounds like required viewing.

    Thanks for putting this on my radar. I know I'll absolutely love it. :)

    1. I look forward to reading your rave review.

      A really nice showcase for Raymond Burr, released the same year as Pitfall, Station West, Raw Deal and Walk a Crooked Mile. If I were a movie-goer at that time, he would definitely make me sit up and notice.

  8. I am also a fan of this later Flynn swashbuckler. I think he and Viveca Lindfors have great chemistry and, as you wrote, the costumes and sets are striking. Kudos for mentioning the scenes from ROBIN HOOD and the appearance of the second Mrs. Flynn!

    1. Such a fun picture and not one that I have noticed gets a lot of love. The Robin Hood chase and Nora are rather like unintentional Easter eggs.

  9. What a marvelous article! I greatly enjoyed your account of this picture. It sounds like a very entertaining film. When I think of old stories that would make good Code films, "Don Juan" does not immediately come to my mind. I am curious to see this Code film about the infamous ladies' man. Your article was a fascinating offset to the review of the 1926 silent version which was reviewed by the INCspotlight. I wrote the following article for this blogathon: I enjoyed your article. I hope you will look at mine.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    1. Thank you so much. I hope this film crosses swords (I mean "paths") with you very soon. It is top-notch entertainment.

      PS: The Pirate is a great choice for the blogathon.

  10. I've owned this film for a few years and still haven't seen it. After reading your excellent post, I really have no excuse. I didn't even realize that the cast included Raymond Burr, David Bruce, and Alan Hale! I'm hanging my head in shame.

    The magical thing about Flynn is he always looked like he belonged, regardless of time period or location. He was so comfortable and effortlessly natural.

    1. I'm a firm believer that things come into your life when they are supposed to, and how lucky it is that you have the DVD right at your fingertips to enjoy. You are going to have so much fun!



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