Although this film stars Errol Flynn, there is no swashbuckling, just Flynn in one of his better performances. Taking place in France during World War II, the movie has the Gestapo, Vichy France, and the French resistance providing the backdrop for the story.
Our central characters are Flynn, playing Jean Picard *, a possible murderous criminal, and his nemesis, Paul Lukas, as French Inspector Marcel Bonet. They take us on a journey that includes many twists and turns, some expected and others not. Flynn’s character has the charming insouciance present in most of his roles and he’s still a rake.
Paul Lukas was a Hungarian stage and movie actor, usually confined to small film roles (around 100 film appearances, including that of Professor Aronnax in “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”). This was a big role for Lukas and he plays the serious, honest police officer very effectively. We watch him struggle throughout the film whether or not to believe Flynn. Sometimes he’s taken in, sometimes not - just like us. Flynn and Lukas play off each other very well and their many scenes together are fun to watch. (“How brave a gun makes a little man.”) The scene that takes place in a church is beautifully directed and filmed. Watch their faces as Flynn’s tale unwinds.
Lucile Watson plays a mother willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to save her son from death at the hands of the Germans. Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade in a few Sherlock Holmes movies) is the town priest and moral compass. The beautiful Faye Emerson has a brief role as one of the women Flynn easily charms, and Jean Sullivan plays another. Sullivan resembles Jennifer Jones, made a total of four films, and plays this part sickeningly sweet.
Accents need to be ignored because they’re all different: English, Hungarian, American, and German, and Sheldon Leonard with his New York City accent playing a Frenchman.
Director Raoul Walsh, better known for “High Sierra,” “Public Enemy,” “White Heat,” and many, many more, also directed Flynn in “Gentleman Jim” in 1942. Sidney Hickcox did a notable job with the black and white cinematography, and Adolph Deutsch is credited with the original music.
As befitting 1944, the ending is a little over the top as we watch Errol Flynn moving toward his destiny, buoyed up by huge swells of “La Marseillaise.” Viva la France!
* Jean Picard was a famous French astronomer, 1620-1682.