Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection

Nobody buckled swash or derring-did like Errol Flynn, a suave and easy screen presence who ruled the box office in the '30s and '40s with a series of popular adventure movies. As if to prove that the boy still has it, Warner has now collected five of these films into a collection that puts his achievements end to end. First of these is Captain Blood (1935), the story of a gentleman doctor who turns pirate when imprisoned by ruthless King James; though it bogs down in plot machinations, it's packed full of incident and immediately establishes why it made Flynn a star. Meanwhile, Dodge City (1939) is even better, a breezy, breakneck Western featuring the star as a sheriff determined to clean up the roughest cattle town in the country. It is nonsense of the first order, with a great barroom brawl and a climactic fight on a burning train that thrill and strain credulity in equal measure. Slightly less effective is The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), with Queen Elizabeth (a disappointingly mannered Bette Davis) trading kisses and barbs with the doomed Earl of Essex (Flynn) in an unhistorical recounting of events that favours Essex in a big way. The actor returned to swashbuckling with The Sea Hawk (1940), though with some clumsy dramaturgy and heavy-handed parallels to the war in Europe, the results are less happy than his breakthrough. A refreshing change of pace comes with the final film, They Died With Their Boots On (1942), a wildly inaccurate General Custer biopic with more emotion than action — tellingly, it's the only one in the series not directed by Michael Curtiz. Though I'd warn you against watching these one after the other (a sense of monotony does set in), on their own they're supremely pleasurable essays on the subject of "golden age" entertainment. The films are backed up by a feature-length documentary charting the actor's rise to celebrity, frequent digressions from the industry and tragic fall into drugs and alcohol. Also included are individual featurettes with experts expounding on backstage lore and the films' finer points, and "Warner Night at the Movies," with host Leonard Maltin presiding benignly over contemporary shorts, trailers and newsreels that are just as fascinating as the features they support. (Warner)