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09.03.08

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Phaedra

Errol Flynn Westerns Collection

Four discs; Warner Home Video; $49.98

Reviewed by Matthew Craggs


Proving that you can take Errol Flynn out of the swashbuckler, but you can't take the swashbuckler out of Errol Flynn, this four-film collection presents a cowboy who more often than not finds himself going against the Old West grain. Playing a Union soldier in Virginia City (1940) and a Confederate rebel in Rocky Mountain (1950), Flynn ends up in unfriendly territory no matter which side of the Mason-Dixon his uniform reflects. As an unwelcome sheepherder in Montana's (1950) cattle territory and an underdog riding into San Antonio (1945), Flynn resides just outside the lines of the general populace. What makes his cowboy portrayals unique is that he doesn't redraw the line with a gun and a squint a la John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Instead, he earns the respect needed to be welcome across the line. When big-business cattle herders kill Flynn's men in Montana, his retaliation largely consists of an attempt to show that sheep and cows can share the grazing areas. Sent by the Union to obtain Southern gold from Nevada's Virginia City, Flynn ends up sacrificing the treasure to keep it out of both Confederate and Union hands, upsetting both sides but somehow managing to justify his actions. This isn't to say that Flynn is the Western's answer to "Can't we all just get along?" There are moments throughout these films where he seamlessly turns into the gunslinging version of a swashbuckler we expect. Cornered and outnumbered by countless stereotypical, whooping tomahawks in Rocky Mountain, his battle cry, "They've seen our backs, let's show 'em our faces," could no better befit a Hollywood hero. Luckily, Flynn sells both the measured and the gun-'em-down traits so the transitions between the two add depth to the characters instead of creating unevenness. Each film comes with extensive special features that help recall the cinema experience of the Hollywood Western, including newsreels, shorts, cartoons and trailers. You won't find John Ford or Sergio Leone, but you could rediscover Saturday mornings at your grandparents' house when cereal and feety-pajamas accompanied a TV set endlessly commandeered by B-Westerns.


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