StarChoice 15: Adventures of Don Juan

 

(Aka: “The New Adventures of Don Juan”, “El Burlador de Castilla”, “La Avventure di Don Giovanni”, “Die Liebesabenteuer des Don Juan”, “Les Aventures de Don Juan” – Technicolor – December 24, 1948)

Back in 1944, Samuel Goldwyn productions released a romantic comedy titled “The Princess and the Pirate”, starring Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo which told the story of a distressed princess who travelled incognito on the high seas and was rescued by the most unlikely of the knights. The production of this swashbuckler was made with utmost secrecy to protect its ending which naturally caught the curiosity of certain studio heads in Hollywood.

 

At that time, the situation was ripe for a diversion from war movies which the audiences were getting tired of since the middle of 1943. Taking into account the major interest of the audience in the glitz and glamour of the movies of historical-romantic fiction set during 17th & 18th century, Jack (Jacob) Warner, the president of Warner Brothers Studios, decided to bring in some power of his own to such movies by casting Errol Flynn in a big-budget swashbuckler film he had kept in the wings for some time.

 

Back in 1926, Warner Brothers had made a silent version of Don Juan with legendry actor John Barrymore in the lead. Jack Warner had noted the parallels that connected the character of Don Juan de Maraña with John Barrymore and his fellow-drunk Errol Flynn whom Warner Brothers had initially employed at their Teddington studio. Warner draw up an action-filled script centered on the romantic exploits of Don Juan with Flynn as the title character. However, this version does not in anyway correlate to the drama, literature, poetry, or music of the Don Juan legend portrayed in earlier presentations. As an alternative to the youthful, morally righteous hero, the new Don Juan will be a distinct ladies’ man who would cut a dash on a horse and wield a sword even though he would be a tad more jaded and fickle.

The studio immediately swung into action and roped in director Raoul Walsh to start shooting in May, 1945, nearly four months prior to the end of World War II on September 2. The shooting dates were set up since few sets were already prepared. Then everything went topsy-turvy. An industry-wide strike of studio set designers that broke out in March, 1945 paved way to a bloody riot in front of the main gates of Warner Brothers studios in California on October 5, 1945 (known as Hollywood Black Friday). Although the strike came to an end one month later, it soon brewed up into another strike which lasted some 13 months before matters were somewhat sorted out. Several attempts by the studio to reorganize the cancelled dates of the project (initially with non-strikers/replacement workers) in the next two and a half years were met with failure.

Being the period following the end of the war when the box office receipts were slumped, in order to make the production economical, producer Jerry Wald (1911-1962) started taking steps to revise and embellish the script (based on the original story by Herbert (Addison) Dalmas (1902-1989)), with the help of a series of writers, including “Max Brand” (aka: Frederick Faust) and William Faulkner. Aside from the use of props and scenes from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”, a sequence relating to a great ball was definitely removed from the final screenplay that would be at last credited to screenwriters George Oppenheimer (1900-1977) and Harry Kurnitz (1907-1968). Some people in the field of film-making have an innate ability to turn screenplays into star-studded blockbusters.

Director Vincent Sherman and George Oppenheimer were two of them. Oppenheimer who was the co-founder of the Viking Press, was often used to improve the scripts of others.

In 1948, “Adventures of Casanova” produced by Bryan Foy who had long association with Warner Brothers came out to good reviews. Starring Mexican actor Arturo de Cordova, this swashbuckler devoid of historical accuracy, was packed with first-rate swordplay about an 18th-century Casanova returning to Palermo, Sicily to help overthrow the tyrannical rule of the king of Naples. This is the first movie that was shown on WCBS-TV’s Channel 2 which would become the legendry late-night movie channel “The Late Show” in 1951. The film would act as a suitable precursor for Warner Brothers-First National Picture’s new Errol Flynn vehicle.

Adventures of Don Juan”, does not follow the basic storyline of a great lover’s entanglements with the Italian Borgia family, as featured in John Barrymore’s version. On the contrary, Flynn’s Don Juan de Maraña, living in 17th century Spain, is concerned with spoiling the dastardly schemes of the lovely Queen Margaret’s first minister, Duke of Lorca and wooing her.

Synopsis: Outskirts of London. The night had fallen now. We see a dark figure stealthily climbing a tree which was leaning towards the balcony of a villa. We can see a beautiful young lady anxiously looking down at the figure lifting himself up through the branches to keep up the secret rendezvous with her. The narrator had already started to explain the state of affairs of the period:

In Europe, as the 17th century dawned, mankind was lifting itself from ignorance and superstition. The old frontiers of the mind were rolling back. New books, new methods were aiding man in his time taught knowledge and wisdom. In the laboratory, in the arts, in every field of endeavour, man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing onward, ever upward. And on the outskirts of London, on a summer night, another man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing upward, ever onward toward his objective” – Count d’Orsini’s wife, Catherine.

Having climbed onto the balcony and into the arms of robust, rosy-cheeked Catherine, she demands to know what took him so long. Don Juan explained that no power on earth would have kept him away from her. In this entire world there has been only one image in his heart, one vision for his eyes. He had loved her since the beginning of time. Now Catherine was confused: She had only met him yesterday! Don Juan was ready for that: Yes, yesterday was when time began. After they surfaced from a kiss rooted in flowering passion, he tenderly assured her that he is hers alone – 101%. Yet Catherine could not believe him – he has made love to countless women. Once again his smile flashed. “Catherine, an artist may paint a thousand canvases before achieving one work of art. Would you deny your love the same practice?” He had apparently developed some wonderful poetic skills. When Catherine implored him to let her know how long he will love her, he decided to release her from her emotional chains. “Sweet lady, love is not measured in terms of time, but only in ecstasy.”

Don Juan found some ground for solace when she told him that even though she is married, she is unattached to her husband, Cecil, who is now on a hunting trip to satisfy his extreme fondness for grouse. Inside the privacy of her bedroom, their amorous exploits were abruptly cut short by the arrival of Catherine’s elderly husband. Vanity is fair in love and hate. Her wrathful husband promptly challenged Don Juan to a valiant duel of swords which Cecil was inevitably set to loose. Disappointments have taught Don Juan to be realistic. Don Juan de Maraña took the trouble to advise Cecil that he should be ashamed of himself to leave a beautiful young woman alone neglected while he indulged in his selfish pleasures – grouse hunting! When did he last tell her that she is beautiful? The man appeared to have a mental block when it comes to admitting he is wrong. Cecil should remind her of her beauty every day of her life. Write poetry, send her flowers (to which Catherine added: “and jewelry”) When he put her back into her lovely mood, she is such an exquisite delight. No argument there.

Though Don Juan departed from the balcony with a carefree smile, he and his faithful servant Leporello, were given chase by the guards of Count d’Orsini. On the road, they came across a cavalry of Queen Elizabeth of England who were waiting for the Duke of Cordoba to arrive by dawn to escort him along the road to London. Having been taken for the Duke of Cordoba, Don Juan and Leporello were accorded royal escort to London and to his bride.

 

They were led in a pageant parade through the streets of London town teeming with its populous. Though Lady Diana was reluctant to her betrothal to the Duke of Cordoba which ensured a new cycle of prosperity for England, having found the imposter to be Don Juan, she was over the moon that he had found her again.

 

She edgily poked his mind to remember of their secret tryst four months ago at the garden of a Countess in Paris. How could he forget those pleasantries and pleasures? As she bolted the door, a thin smile flickered on her lips, and there was a malicious glitter in her eyes. This time she will not let him forget her. It didn’t take much longer for the paramours to drift into a kiss which was broken by the arrival of the real Duke of Cordoba. Though Don Juan and Leporello were immediately imprisoned, they were soon paroled to the custody of His Excellency Count de Polan, the Ambassador of Spain.

 

With his release from the English jail, Don Juan seemed headed for the Spanish prison since having returned to Madrid, the Duke of Cordoba had complained to the weak and feckless King Felipe III and Queen Margaret of Spain about the series of amatory escapades of Don Juan de Maraña who had damaged the prestige of Spain and messed up the marriage of convenience shaped expressly for the purpose of peace between Spain and England. There is a fair chance of hanging. Count de Polan, who is a friend of Don Juan’s father, told him to leave London and return to Madrid to present himself before the Spanish Court for Her Majesty’s judgment.

 

The Count had written to the Queen urging that she deal gently with Don Juan. Though Don Juan claimed he knew nothing of matters such as court intrigue, the ambassador had maintained that he devote his time to help the heartbroken Queen to attain peace in her country ruled by the subservient sovereign King Felipe III under the influence of his first minister, who has been plaguing her of late. His loyalty to the Queen would help her to face the cunning Duke of Lorca who is hatching a ruthless plot to elevate himself as a power behind the throne. Don Juan and Leporello rode across the midlands into the city of Madrid….and so the future began….

 

The shooting of ”Adventures of Don Juan” started in October, 1947 under Vincent (Vince) Sherman (born Abram Orovitz – 1906-2006), a former American stage actor who joined with Warner Brothers in 1938 where he was assigned to their B-picture unit. Sherman who had associated with chubby dynamo Jerry Wald since “All Through the Night” (1941), had launched his directorial career with the horror movie “The Return of Doctor X” (1939). Owing to his experience in numerous Theatre Guild productions on Broadway, reworking of scripts and finally directing movies, Vince Sherman became an expert in film making: in its continuity and cutting and progression. He made films relishing in the love and devotion of his wife Hedda Comorau who turned a blind eye to, according to IMDB, his occasional romantic flings with actresses Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and later with Rita Hayworth. Being a good friend of Errol Flynn who was the big white hope of Warner Brothers, Sherman had no qualms when Flynn asked to direct him in ”Adventures of Don Juan” which he did with his customary efficiency.

1944 was a period when the Tasmania born Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was spawning lot of publicity from his off-screen feats, especially the foul smell derived from his rape trial of 1943. Flynn had been an English repertory theatre actor before obtaining a contract with Warner Brothers and would become rated as the best swashbuckler of the sound cinema – an image created with the help of director Michael Curtiz with whom he finally quarreled and split.

Keeping up with the image of the daringly gallant and dashing swashbuckler, Errol Flynn maintained an appetite for a delightful and hard life. He had his own dedicated group of drinkers and keeping him within the production schedule was one heck of a job for director Sherman and unit manager Frank Mattison. The “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry once said, “(Flynn) spent more time on a bar stool, or in court, or in the headlines, or in bed, than anyone I knew.” He was once described by David Niven as “a magnificent specimen of the rampant male.” The frivolous, sardonic, and rather witty initial scenes of Don Juan wooing an enamoured Catherine and the inevitable encounter with her enraged husband is a spoof of the personality of Don Juan and of star Flynn himself.

While the burden to carry the film focused on the title character is loaded on the star performer; few weeks into the production, Flynn disappeared out of town for a few weeks, possibly for one of his major binges, leaving the artistic collaborators in the enterprise to shut the unit down and wait it out until he returned. When he finally positioned himself before the camera, he appeared sodden with alcohol which was consumed from mid-afternoon onwards, forbidding him from going on with a scene for long. This is despite Flynn’s famous trick of spending half hour in the steam room to get the booze off him. However, all this resulted in a good deal of additional set ups, retakes, editing rhythms and extra time though Sherman once said that this happened only once.

 

Despite the studio’s endeavor to wink at Flynn’s age, there was some concern about the roughened state of his face from his hard living.  In spite that Flynn sometimes failed to generate the excitement of the performance of Douglas Fairbanks or Burt Lancaster, I think he had great personal style and that the flamboyant Flynn’s physic was tailor-made for the swashbuckling roles. Being a great natural athlete, it was Flynn’s lighter-than-air agility, light-hearted seriousness, a degree of grace and style, and pure English-speaking voice which turned out “Adventures of Don Juan” to be a good film.

The role of Spanish Queen Margaret was portrayed by the Uppsala born 28-year old Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors (Elsa Viveca Torstensdotter Lindfors – 1920-95). Before she was imported to Hollywood by Warner Brothers in 1946, she was appearing on stage and in films having been trained at The Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm like her fellow Swedish actresses Greta Garbo, Signe Hasso, Mai Zetterling and Ingrid Bergman.

Queen Margaret would be Lindfors’ first appearance in a Warner/Hollywood movie. I have a strong feeling that the appearance and mannerism of Lindfors in the role of Queen Margaret had influenced in formulating Sophia Loren’s character of Doña Jimena in “El Cid

The role of the subservient King Felipe III is played by Romney Brent (1902-76), the dapper Mexican actor/director also known as Romulo Larralde.

Buckinghamshire born stage actor Robert Douglas (Robert Douglas Finlayson – 1909-99) was a student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared on British stages before he moved to Hollywood after the war and specialized in roles of suave and arrogant villains. Douglas stars as the king’s illusory minister, the Duke de Lorca who had his heels on the king’s neck. This role was originally meant for Claude Rains and later for George Coulouris. Well versed in swordplay, Douglas had studio experience in having dueled with the likes of Stewart Granger, Robert Taylor, Burt Lancaster, etc. Douglas’ stylish daredevil duel with Flynn on the grand staircase in the king’s palace, though at times not totally fair, has by now attained cult status.

Burly Alan Hale Sr. (Rufus Edward MacKahan – 1892-1950) was a cheerful actor who played heroes in silent action films and similar to his role of Leporello, was often cast as a jovial sidekick of Errol Flynn. Having acted in period films such as “The Last Days of Pompeii”, “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “The Sea Hawk”, his career would see him acting as Little John in three movies, viz., “Robin Hood”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and in “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”. Interestingly, innovations such as the folding theatre-seats and hand fire extinguisher are credited to him.

The lady in the coach at the end of the movie is played by none other than  Nora Eddington (1924-2001), the second wife of Errol Flynn whom the nineteen year old Nora had met in 1943 while working at the courthouse where Flynn was undergoing trial for statutory rape from which he was acquitted. Unfortunately the couple who married in 1944 at Mexico will be divorced in 1949.

The former child stage star/leading lady Ann Rutherford (Donna Elena), character actor Robert Warwick (aka: Robert Taylor Bien – Count de Polan), British actor Aubrey Mather  

    

(Lord Chalmers), former child actress Helen Westcott (aka: Myrthas Helen Hickman – Lady Diana), dwarf actor Jerry Austin (Don Sebastian), Douglas Kennedy (aka: Keith Douglas – Don Rodrigo), Jeanne Shepard (Donna Carlotta), Mary Stuart (Catherine), G.P. Huntley, Jr. (Count d’Orsini), Spanish Opera singer Fortunio Bonanova (Don Serafino), Irish character actress Una O’Connor (Duenna), heavily-built Canadian actor Raymond Burr (Captain Alvarez), etc rounded off the supporting cast.

 

The film features impressive photography by English Cinematographer/actor Elwood (Bailey) Bredell Sr. (1902-1969), a former lab technician who would, while working with Universal Studios during the period 1937-46, reveal his cinematographic skills in films of genre: thrillers and film noir. Bredell’s chance to picture big-budget movies came after his shift to Warner Brothers in 1947, when his sumptuous visual style attained a new dimension in filming that resulted in richly textured images which embellished movies such as “Adventures of Don Juan”, “Female Jungle”, and “Journey into Light”, the latter of which also offered him occasion to work with Viveca Lindfors once again. For “Adventures of Don Juan”, Bredell and his team not only took care of the artistically and dramatically expressive angles, but generated a mixture of shadows and diffused lighting that would provide a memorable atmosphere of sinister visions to the frames.

The film is edited by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), the son of Alan Crosland who directed “Don Juan”, the 1926 silent film of Warner Brothers starring John Barrymore. Crosland. Jr’s expert editing patterns can be noted in the brisk pace as the duel heightens, as well as in the smooth flow of scenes he had put together from the asymmetrical frames occasioned by disruptive filming.

Though the location filming was done in West Hills, Providencia Ranch (Hollywood Hills) and Warner Ranch (Calabasas), the interiors were mostly shot in semi-Expressionist sets at Stages in Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California, under the direction of Art Director Edward Carrere and Set Decorator Lyle B. Reifsnider.

 

The specially constructed magnificent sets of the king’s palace and the grand staircase adds colour and dynamism to the expertly choreographed duel between the heroic Flynn and scoundrel Douglas which takes place to the splendour of Max Steiner’s rousing score. The initial scene at the balcony gives a richly coloured texture, the streets of 17th century London and Madrid, the entire palace including the dungeon were all arranged to provide a picture-book-look by providing due consideration to the minute details. Edward Carrere justly received an Academy Award for the Art Direction for this movie.

 

The characters were dressed up beautifully by Costume designers Leah Rhodes, Marjorie Best (uncredited) and William (Billy) Travilla. The costumes that express authenticity, especially of delectable Viveca Lindfors, are befittingly designed, the influence of which is evident in the costumes worn by Sophia Loren in “El Cid” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. The black band around Flynn’s head during the final scenes conjures up the flair and grace of Douglas Fairbanks. The film would win the Academy Award for Costume Design. Dress designer Billy Travilla (1920-90) was an employ of Columbia Pictures from 1941 to 43 before he was brought to Warner Brothers by actress Ann Sheridan, where his first work is for this movie. He would later become famous for his dresses designed for Marilyn Monroe one of which is the snow white ivory halterneck cocktail dress blowing in the breeze in Monroe’s “The Seven Year Itch”.

 

Perc Westmore who handled the make-up for this movie is the son of George Westmore, the head of the famous family of Hollywood make-up artists who had earned their reputation during a period when none of today’s popular creams like Diors’ “Capture Totale”, or Lancôme’s “Génifique” to name a few, were available.

The enthralling dueling sequences were staged with a tongue-in-cheek approach by the team of Assistant Director Richard Mayberry, Fencing Master Fred Cavens and special-effects men William McGann and John Crouse blended together by maestro Sherman by casting doubles. The duel scenes in the dungeon, in the halls of the palace and on the grand staircase were aptly staged, even though Don Juan’s spectacular leap from the stairs during the duel was performed by Jock Mahoney (1919-89), the only stuntman who was willing to do that dangerous stunt and was paid S1,000 for it.

 

The film is laced with the romantic and richly melodious score of Austrian composer Max Steiner (Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner – 1888-1971) with orchestrations by Murray Cutter. One of Hollywood’s most prolific film score writers, Steiner had provided music for “Gone With the Wind”, “Casablanca”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The Jazz Singer”, to name a few. It was Max Steiner who first came up with the potentiality of scoring films with original compositions, convincing the producers about the important role music can play in conveying the mood, character and pace of a film. Originally, fellow Austrian Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was assigned to score for “Adventures of Don Juan” but was reassigned to Steiner since Korngold had left Warner Brothers by the time the filming was wrapped up.

To provide score for an action film like this is a complicated art requiring tremendous skill in precision timing which Steiner has fulfilled by providing the most enjoyable accompaniment to the pageantry and stylish scenes of the movie.

 

To promote the movie, Warner Brothers even reissued “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Sea Hawk” in America which performed very well in spite that they lacked Technicolor photography. Though “Adventures of Don Juan” did thriving business in Europe, it put up only a reasonable success in the U.S box office – a clear indication that Flynn’s golden days were not going to have resurgence and this expensive, but generally entertaining swashbuckler would be Flynn’s last big-budget extravaganza.

Every movie leaves something to the imagination. “Adventures of Don Juan” has a safe corner in the memory as a film created with the involvement of great talents who had impeccably crafted wonderful sets, high-end action scenes, colorful period costumes, a harmony of melodious, rousing score dominated by violins, trumpets, and drums – all that and more…

Take your pleasures where you can. The curious are urged not to miss it. Ciao, Jo.

(PS: The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “StarChoice 15: Adventures of Don Juan

  1. Actually not seen this yet, will have to get around to it if I can find it. Didn’t realise he was born in Tasmania, or about the rape trial, Need to do some googling.

  2. Great Post! I fell in love with Errol Flynn when I was a little girl..LOL. I love the old movies because the costumes were fantastic, the makeup flawless and they weren’t all blood and guts. I can’t stand many of the unrealistic movies made today because children do not understand the difference between fantasy and reality…. so when they see blood & guts movies or often even the stunts done in the movies, they think they should be able to do them. Life isn’t like that though really. You don’t jump off a building and walk away… or get shot and it’s no big deal. The actors and actresses in the old movies were just so much more glamourous in my opinion, and usually, the whole family could watch those movies together. 😀

  3. It’s absolutely amazing how your articles on film takes me back to a place and time and fills me with such nostalgia. I watched these films when still a small child, with my mother, father, and siblings on a Sunday afternoon. And I remember how exciting they were for all of us. Errol Flynn was such a likable character in all of his movies. My favorite was Robin Hood. 🙂

    Thanks for another very entertaining article Jo. I always learn so much from your posts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s