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December 2015

The Last Of Robin Hood

cast: Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon, Matt Kane, and Max Casella

directors: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

94 minutes (15) 2013
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2
[released 14 December]

RATING: 7/10
review by Andrew Darington

The Last Of Robin Hood

In an age of big movie-star heroes, Errol Flynn was bigger than them all. A hard-drinking, womanising swashbuckler in life as well as on screen, he's up there forever in the Hollywood pantheon of greats. That his life and image precariously overlapped is a given. As early as 1942, he was dragged through the courts, charged with the statutory rape of two fans, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, in Bel Air and on Flynn's yacht, respectively. It was only due to his lawyer's ruthless character-assassination of Flynn's 'gold-digger' victims that the 'hero of a generation' was acquitted. Although Flynn died in October 1959, wrecked by booze, narcotics, and hard living, such rumours persist.

This engaging indie film is based on a book, The Big Love (1961), of dubious authenticity written by Florence Aadland, which alleges that Flynn had a sexual relationship with her then-underage daughter, Beverly, "her first love and his last." Regardless of the truth, the story made scandalous copy, and was first adapted into a stage play vehicle for Tracey Ullman. Here, it becomes an enjoyable three-hander, with Kevin Kline as Flynn, the slightly-dated roguish matinee idol, the ageing roué still exerting his fading charm and celebrity to lethal woman-chasing ends. "Are you decent?" enquires the voice at the door. "Never!" proclaims Flynn, in poseur's cravat.

Kline inhabits the 'homeless vagabond' Flynn completely. Susan Sarandon is 'Flo' Aadland whose own movie-star ambitions were thwarted by an auto-wreck, resulting in her leg being amputated. Instead, she manipulates her daughter to live out those frustrated dreams on her behalf, complicit with what happens, or at least agreeing to be deceived. While Dakota Fanning is perfectly cast, with knowing innocence, as Beverly. Not conventionally beautiful, her pouty attraction in War Of The Worlds (2005), and the Twilight franchise, mark her out. This film only convinces more.

With 1960s-style title-graphics, the film begins with the end - Flynn's death "in the arms of a young lover." Then it spools back to the beginning. He picks her out of a cutesy chorus line. Does she know who he is? "Sure, Robin Hood," she quips. He goes through the motions of 'auditioning' her for what she calls a 'kinda corny' play. He names her 'woodsey' - wood-nymph, and then seduces her - 'in like Flynn'. Is he a predator? Sure, he loves women. He's what Flo's husband Herb (Patrick St Esprit) calls "a walking penis," or what Flynn himself calls 'the devil incarnate'. But the former Pears soap ad-girl is posing as 18 to get the chorus-line job. By the time he discovers she's only 15, they're already involved. "I'm far too old for her, but sadly, she's not too young for me," he confides to the bartender.

Is it a love-match? They go to New York where he blusters his way through the stage-play The Master Of Thornfield. Newly-divorced Flo is there as chaperone. But Beverly and Flynn share a room, "the most fun I've ever had," she gushes. Of course, sex is a transaction, especially in this May-December sense. But he tries to use his connections to promote her career. In an intriguing sequence, Errol tries to talk Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) into casting her as 'Lolita' with himself as Humbert Humbert. When this scam fails, he writes, finances, and directs Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), as a vehicle for her. He resents her flirting with a younger guy on-set, but fatalistically accepts its inevitability. Earlier - filming The Roots Of Heaven (1958) with Beverly in French equatorial Africa - he avoids dysentery by not drinking the water: "water is for swimming in," and just drinks booze. In Cuba there's a near-death fever.

The film catches the period's feel and pace well. The trio of characters seem authentically portrayed. Back in Hollywood she celebrates her 17th birthday. No pretence about her age now. While Flo's increasing taste for liquor lubricates her candid telling of their tale. A performer to the last, Flynn tells an amusing anecdote about suave actor John Barrymore, then dies.

The aftermath is sad scandal-rag exposé, failed career-launches, and Flo's alcoholism. In the battle for Flynn's legacy, the will he dictated in her favour is deemed invalid. Beverly is made a 'ward of court.' The book - on which this film is based, is voiced by Mom, against Beverly's explicit wishes. So it's Mom's version of the story. Is it the truth? Who knows... "The party's over, and now we have to clean up the mess," says Sarandon.

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