Saturday, 2 January 2010

Errol Flynn's comedies II: Footsteps in the Dark (1941)

After "Four's a Crowd", Errol Flynn's next comedy was Lloyd Bacon's "Footsteps in the Dark", a comedy-mystery where a gentleman leads a double life as a crime writer. Then someone dies and he is convinced that it was murder. By the time the police agrees with him, he is one of the main suspects and he has to clear his name.
By the early 1940s most comedies had a slight less madcap/screwball edge than they had had in the mid-1930s. Humour relies less on the mad antics of a few characters. Still there are a few scenes of chaos (when Flynn tries to persuade his family of his innocence when seen with another woman) and a police detective that is not too far removed from just a few years earlier, but it doesn't feel the same. Towards the end the film becomes less of a comedy a more of a mystery, but if you pay attention you can find the real culprit - this isn't really in Agatha Christie's league. The film's most obvious flaw is that Flynn's character starts knowing much more than the police. When he believes that dead man has been murdered, he knows of a motive (and so does the audience) that no one else does. Knowledge is power, but it doesn't always make good drama.

Errol Flynn is fun to watch and you wonder if he really took himself seriously at this stage of his life, but that never really gets in the way of his performance. On the contrary, he seems to make that a strength. He knew he could never be Sherlock Holmes, but he certainly did take a hint or two from William Powell's Nick Charles. Brenda Marshall was surprisingly good, much better than in "The Sea Hawk". She can be quite funny, in particular in the scene where she and her mother go to see her "rival" at the theatre. The rest of the film cast is top notch. Lucille Watson is hilarious as Flynn's suspicious mother in law; Alan Hale and Allen Jenkins are Flynn's sidekicks (well, Hale is the chief of police) and Ralph Bellamy does something other than his usual "second banana".

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