Speaking to the mother of hispresent lover, an underage teenager, Errol Flynn blames his own mother for shaping his attitudes toward women. “But you’re a gentleman among gentlemen,” Florence Aadland (Susan Sarandon) declares, fully complicit in her daughter’s illicit relationship with the 49-year-old actor, one of the most notorious rakes in Hollywood history.
“Florence, I am and always will be, quite literally,” Flynn (Kevin Kline) replies, “an absolute son of a bitch.”
Just released on DVD after a three-week theatrical run late last summer, The Last of Robin Hood is the story of Flynn’s well-documented relationship with Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) from 1957-’59. She was 15 when he first met and slept with her, though she was passing for 18 at the time, working as a Hollywood extra with the full support and connivance of her showbiz-crazy mom. Beverly was with Errol two years later when he died of a heart attack in Canada, a fact which became tabloid fodder when the juicy details went public.
The term “In Like Flynn” entered the lexicon by way of the film star’s insatiable sexual appetite and legendary conquests, a sordid reputation the actor grudgingly admits to Beverly’s mother once she’s made aware of the couple’s relationship. With Beverly, however, Flynn declares he has found true love, a confession The Last of Robin Hood would seem to support, however doomed and unrealistic the “affair to remember” turns out to be. Accordingly, Flynn publicly declares his intention to marry the girl, just as he intends to include her in his last will and testament. However, as Flynn’s lawyer later tells Mrs. Aadland about the dead man’s intentions, everything “is typically a mess.”
The movie touches on some fascinating incidents, such as Flynn’s alleged attempt to coax Stanley Kubrick into casting him as Humbert Humbert in the film version of Lolita, with Beverly as the title character. Kubrick declines, however, citing Beverly’s ineptitude as well as her age – at 16 or 17, she’s too old for the part.
Far too little time is spent on Flynn’s last major film role in The Roots of Heaven, which was shot in Africa under the direction of John Huston. The real-life tales of that outing nearly rival those of The African Queen, including Flynn’s bouts with the bottle as well as with his director, who reportedly decked him in a fistfight. More could also have been done with Flynn’s very last film, Cuban Rebel Girls, a pro-Castro vehicle that Flynn wrote and starred in, alongside Beverly, while the Cuban Revolution was still in progress.
Unfortunately, The Last of Robin Hood fails to live up to its potential (much like Flynn himself) despite Kline’s spot-on perfect performance. Jude Law played Flynn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and Peter O’Toole’s fictional character in My Favorite Year was clearly based on the rakish, alcoholic actor as well. Good as both impersonations were, however, neither comes close to Kline’s interpretation here.
Sarandon is also quite good, convincingly muted in her own turn as a rabid stage mom. In the crucial role of Beverly, however, Fanning is the weak link in the equation. She is sympathetic as a kind of victim, but it’s hard to see what Flynn might have seen in her, given his predilections.
The movie also needed a bigger budget and a longer running time to tell its fascinating story and highlight Kline’s amazing performance. For Errol Flynn fans, however, The Last of Robin Hood is still a must-see.