Nothing gladdens the heart like a Technicolor adventure romp from Hollywood’s golden age. Throw in the great swashbuckler himself and you’ve a recipe for a fun time, if not exactly a classic. In 17th century London, notorious lothario Don Juan (Errol Flynn - who else?) eagerly romances a noblewoman until he discovers she is married. Amusingly (but given period censorship - inevitably), this incarnation of Don Juan doesn’t dally with married women. Caught in the act, he easily bests her cuckolded husband then scolds him for neglecting his lovely wife. His gallantry makes for a more likeable philanderer.
Accompanied by his friend, Leporello (perennial sidekick Alan Hale), Don Juan escapes the pursuing horseman only to land himself in further hot water. Posing as fiancé of the beautiful Lady Diana, Juan inadvertently disrupts her politically advantageous marriage to a Spanish Duke. Returning home to Spain, Juan takes a post as fencing instructor at the royal court where King Phillip III (Romney Brent) is a bumbling fool with his own mini-me (Angelo Rossitto), while sensible Queen Margaret (Viveca Lindfors) is the real power behind the throne. Against his better judgement, Juan falls for the lovely Queen, who initially suspects he is after another conquest instead of genuine love. Meanwhile, the evil Count De Polan (Robert Douglas) plots to usurp the throne and launch a secret, second armada against England.
This lavish Warner Bros. production bears all the hallmarks of its era. Vast, extravagant sets, colourful costumes and ravishing cinematography. All the better to accommodate its plethora of beautiful girls - Flynn must have been in seventh heaven! The studio were eager to capitalise on his reputation as latter-day Don Juan, but the project had a bumpy ride to the big screen. Original director Raoul Walsh bailed after falling out with Flynn, while the star was beginning to suffer the ill effects brought on by all those years of hell-raising. Sick of being matinee idol, he wanted to prove his mettle as a “real actor” and during the initial days of shooting, improvised brilliantly. However, upon reading poor reviews for his dramatic role in Escape Me Never (1947), Flynn took to the bottle once more.
Ironically his attitude matches the world-weariness of Don Juan, eager to settle down with his dream girl, but unable to stop women throwing themselves at him. At one point, Flynn does the patented Stan Laurel “stare dumbfounded into the camera” bit. An engaging and underrated performer, he brings his customary zest to the sword fights (although his climactic leap onto Count De Polan was performed by future Tarzan, Jock Mahoney) and pithy gags. When told he’s loved too many women, Don Juan replies: “An artist may paint a thousand canvasses before discovering his true masterpiece.” Actually, this features less womanizing than you might expect, dwelling mostly upon Machiavellian antics of De Polan and the chaste, star-crossed romance between Juan and the Queen. A good performance from Viveca Lindfors, later involved in Exorcist III (1990) and Stargate (1994), but don’t hold that against her. Also lookout for a young Raymond Burr as a particularly nasty cavalier.
Breezy and episodic, this succeeds more through its general air of amiability, than a tightly wound plot. The film was not a financial success, but while it may have been the beginning of the end for Errol Flynn, he had a few good performances left in him.