My Wicked, Wicked Ways is the bastard cousin of Gable and Lombard, if Gable and Lombard was a TV movie instead of a big-screen presentation. (Let’s all think about the fact Gable and Lombard was released to theaters at all.) I compare the two because My Wicked, Wicked Ways, loosely based on Errol Flynn’s autobiography is only fascinated in showing life as Flynn perceived it (or as the screenwriters perceived Flynn to have lived his life), turning the movie into one misogynistic fantasy. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s hard to swallow a tale wherein the world apparently begins and ends with Flynn (then again, don’t all biopics?).
My Wicked, Wicked Ways details the exploits of actor Errol Flynn (Duncan Regehr) and his torrid marriage to actress Lili Damita (Barbara Hershey).
For a two-hour and seventeen minute TV movie there’s a very small window of time covered, or the few events of Flynn’s life took several years to unfold. The movie captures the films leading from Flynn’s début up to the late thirties-early forties and ending with the scandal of Flynn’s dalliance-and possible rape-of an underage girl of which he was later acquitted. There’s no description of his origins and the movie falls into a pattern of womanizing, filming, womanizing, filming. I was very surprised to actually see acknowledgment of actors and studios. There’s no overt changing of names or fictional studios used. When Flynn walks the WB backlot it’s the real WB backlot. Actresses like Olivia De Havilland (Lee Purcell) and Damita, along with bigwigs like Jack Warner (Hal Linden) and John Barrymore (Barrie Ingham) are mentioned by name.
I was equally shocked by the performance of our Flynn, Duncan Regehr. At times he’s a bit too Olivier in his performance, but he’s got the height, charisma, virility, and vigor to pull off Flynn. He’s great and works with the flawed development of Flynn himself. The movie may be based off Flynn’s book, but the portrayal of him is all surface. The overemphasis on his sexual prowess casts focus away from who he was as an actor, and turns the moments where he asks for raises due to his immense popularity into whining about how he has everything except more money. The movie is far too interested in being a “me, me, me” story and I’m unsure whether the intent is the director, screenwriter, or Flynn’s source material. Something to keep in mind, the movie uses the title but doesn’t list Flynn’s book as source material.
The rest of the cast lack recognition aside from Hershey who, at the time, was a few years away from the monster hits cementing her star status. As Lili Damita, Hershey effects a fake French accent, playing a character whose a Francophile take on Courtney Love. The movie wants you to believe Flynn and Damita’s marriage was legendary; two people so in love with each other, and themselves, ultimately lost to self-destruction. It’s hard to see all that, despite other characters calling their romance “torrid” and lingering on Flynn’s dalliances to prove he did Lili wrong. However, because Hershey’s stuck throwing objects she also appears childlike before disappearing from the movie entirely. There’s a stray mention of Flynn’s other two marriages, not included because they didn’t involve violence, I guess.
The movie’s just far too content on making Flynn a 1940s Conrad Birdie. Remember the scene in Bye, Bye Birdie where Conrad sings and the entire town’s females pass out in one fell swoon? Imagine that happening thirteen times over. Every single time Flynn enters a scene at least one woman has to stammer like an idiot. He goes to Spain during the Spanish Civil War and a female rebel refuses to kill him because he’s so damn dreamy…and she’s subsequently killed for it. Women who are all business one minute, such as Flynn’s assistant (I’m guessing because no description is given), Prudence (Deborah Harmon) literally let their hair down and settle for being Flynn’s gal pal. Most egregiously, the movie asserts Flynn was only acquitted of rape because of a jury composed of little old ladies! Either this is a total male fantasy of Flynn’s-the idea he was a pawn drawn to the lure of women-or the screenwriters had no interest other than saying his art was his life and his life was his art. As with Gable and Lombard, this turns his life and person into a character, a persona so the biopic does nothing but to further this myth which only pushes people away from wanting to delve deeper into his work.
In spite of a decent lead performance, My Wicked, Wicked Ways is a travesty to Flynn’s personality. The movie is a sensationalist portrait of a man who, according to this script, couldn’t keep it in his pants and was both ruined and aided by his sexuality. Oddly enough, aside from the rape allegations, nothing truly wicked is shown due to its television airing. This is an interesting piece of nostalgia, but I’d wait for a true Flynn biopic.