When I set out to create my medieval detective, Crispin Guest, he was perhaps a darker more angst-ridden version of the Errol Flynn persona he projected on screen. Yes, there is a lot of Flynn in Crispin Guest.
Flynn was the original Tasmanian Devil, born down under. If his autobiography MY WICKED WICKED WAYS is to be believed, he lived an adventurer's life, like someone out of a Hemmingway novel. And then he came to Hollywood and made his first movie, Captain Blood, which catapulted him to stardom.
I haven't seen Captain Blood all the way through in some years and when the Los Angeles Conservancy began it's new season of Last Remaining Seats (an ongoing fund raising venture to help conserve L.A.s classic structures, where the public can watch old movies on the big screen in downtown movie palaces) they offered a showing at downtown's Million Dollar Theater.
I don't think there is anything quite like seeing an old movie--perhaps a movie you've seen a number of times on television or on a DVD--on a big screen with an audience of 2,000. Somehow, it gives the film more weight, more importance. It's not in stereo, it's not in 3D, it's not widescreen and it's in black and white. It wasn't even the best copy I'd ever seen. But what it was was a movie the way it was meant to be seen.
Errol Flynn in his debut for American audiences. And as I sat there, I tried to imagine being a theater goer in 1935. Times were still tough in America after the Crash and I had plunked down my 25 cents, pulling my cloche hat down over my ears, and nestling in my seat in the darkening movie palace, with its baroque decor buttressing the operatic proportions of the proscenium. The curtain parts and the cartoon comes on (and we watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon called "Captain Hareblower." All us adults laughing like kids). After that, a newsreel. And then, the decorative curtain rises on a large square of black and white. The credits roll, the triumphal orchestrations of Erich Wolfgang Korngold fill the theater, and you are on a swashbuckling adventure with...who? Who is Errol Flynn? And then he makes his screen appearance. That rakish smile, the innocent lilt to his brows--it was all there in this first outing. He didn't have the pencil-thin mustache yet that he would wear in all the rest of his films (in The Adventures of Robin Hood, my all time favorite, he wears a goatee as well), but he was--from the get-go--definitely sexy, exciting, all around swoon-worthy. In other words, a star.
We applauded when he and Olivia de Havilland came on screen. We laughed at the jokes--still funny--laughed at some of hokum--not too much of it--and thrilled to the still very exciting sword-fighting and battle royale on the high seas.
But let's back up. I was born and bred in Los Angeles, but I haven't lived in or around L.A. in twenty years. I live inland, over a hundered miles away, so it's a big deal to me to go into L.A. We got there early and decided to wander a bit, be a tourist, and walk through Olvera Street.
Olvera Street has been a tourist attraction since 1930 when its older buildings were either converted or created to resemble the idea of the original El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula or the town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels on the Porciuncula River. That's a bit of a mouthful. No wonder we just call it L.A. I used to go to Olvera Street when I was a kid. It's really just one little street with shops, shops, shops, a plaza, and restaurants. But we had time to kill and so we spent it there. It's in the shadow of L.A.'s city hall on one side, and Union Station on the other.
L.A.'s city hall. It used to be the tallest building downtown, but no more.
Then, because this is L.A., they are always filming something. This was a webisode for what, I don't know.
We dined at Philippe's. It claims to be the home of the original beef dip sandwich. It's one of those old joints that hasn't changed since the '30s; sawdust on the floor, stools at community tables, old-fashioned cole slaw or potato salad with your beef dip. A decent meal for not a lot of money.
Heading early down to Broadway where the theater is, we encountered a bomb scare. Apparently something was exploded in a trashcan. Someone said an M80. This used to be the stuff of hi-jinks from typical teens. Now it's the stuff of Homeland Security.
Next door to the theater is my favorite pharamicia and Catholic-ish saint statue and shrine shop (I say Catholic-ish, because it's chock full of superstitious stuff, like candles shaped like penises to help you with your little problem. You burn the candle and pray, I guess), including many statues devoted to Death! I have my statue of Death. Do you?
Flynn's last wife (he was married three times) Patrice Wymore, actress and now resident of Jamaica, was on hand to have a little conversation with our host in front of a curtain used in the first talkie The Jazz Singer, before the film began.
You know, I'm a credit reader. I'm usually the last one left in a movie theater because I stay for the credits. I do that because, number one, I paid a bundle for this movie so I will get every last drop of it; number two, a lot of people worked hard to make this movie that I just sat and appreciated so I will do them the honor of sitting through their credits and occasionally picking out a few names to take note of; and three, sometimes movies have those little extras at the end that just caps off the film. In the superhero movies, they always show which superhero will be made into a movie next.
But! There is something about "The End" coming up on the screen as the curtain closes that gives the film its finality, that you have just experienced something special. I remember a time when you did wait for the curtain to come up. Movie houses used to do that. Had from the beginning, mimicing a live performance. Why not? You were sitting in a theater.
I urge you to seek out movie houses that show old movies. It's the way they should be seen.