A look at the pre-Hollywood life of Errol Flynn, “My Forgotten Man” represents a mild-mannered telling of some wild exploits. Indie Australian effort will hold the interest of viewers disposed to the subject, but TV-like approach doesn’t make the most of the potentially rich material. Modest international prospects loom.
Similar projects dealing with the star’s reckless youth were announced over the years, and this one’s production history is unusually checkered. Under the title “Flynn,” pic started shooting in North Queensland in 1990 under Brian Kavanaugh’s direction. Lensing was halted after a few weeks and, with a new leading lady and Steven Berkoff added to the cast, resumed much later (with Fiji now doubling for New Guinea) and Frank Howson at the helm.
Rather than exhibiting signs of behind-the-scenes havoc, however, result is altogether too placid and well-mannered, given the nature of its leading character. A childhood prologue has little Errol catching his mother committing adultery, only to be told, “Sometimes you have to lie.”
The kid seems to have taken the advice to heart, as, by the time he’s in his early 20s, he’s committed most of the seven capital sins and has done a good job getting away with it. Resenting the imposing shadow of his famous biologist father and desperate to avoid boredom at all costs, young Flynn abandons any notion of a conventional business career and embarks upon one colorful, naughty escapade after another.
Down on his luck and living on the streets, Flynn decides to enter the New Guinea gold rush, and in the process gets mixed up with a mysterious Hitlerite, Klaus Reicher (Steven Berkoff), who endeavors to indoctrinate his young protege into his own sexual and political persuasions. Instead, Flynn gets involved with a local girl and is charged with the murder of a native man in a nasty fracas. He is found guilty, only to be rescued by his Nazi buddy.
Back in Sydney, Flynn becomes a back alley fighter and hustler, but shortly develops theatrical ambitions that quickly lead to his stage debut. The rest is history, which has been covered in an infinitely worse American telefilm.
Co-writer/director Frank Howson has related Flynn’s wicked, wicked ways with reasonable amounts of raunch and intelligence, but limited flair. Much rides, of course, on his leading man, and in Guy Pearce, a popular 23-year-old Aussie TV actor, he has one who’s appropriately fine looking and callow, but lacks the crucial devilish charm that made Flynn so appealing to both men and women. Although he cuts a dashing enough figure, Pearce doesn’t particularly resemble the Tasmanian-born star, and never crosses over from an impersonation to a totally convincing performance.
As the insidious influence on Flynn’s already irresponsible nature, Berkoff is vigorously rascally, but the role has been curiously fictionalized from the real-life Dr. Herman Erben, a member of the SA who was doing naval intelligence work for the Germans at the time he met Flynn. Howson would seem to have hedged a bit on the far-reaching influence this man had on his subject. Similarly, Claudia Karvan plays a composite role as a young lady who tempts the irrepressible womanizer to settle down but can’t manage it.
Although clearly shot on a low budget, production looks good, with particular attention having been paid to reproducing frontier New Guinea on Fiji locations. Lensing, art direction and costumes are all pluses.