Truth or slander? Rumor or libel? People say all sorts of things. In Rocky Mountain (1950), as Lafe Barstow, Errol Flynn, an authentic original when it comes to Hollywood royalty, plays a rebel trying to muster last-ditch support for “the cause” in distant California and Nevada. According to IMDB, the shooting location is actually Gallup, NM. But after having seen a million rocks in movies and/or reality, a mountainous background is everywhere, anywhere to the unspoiled naked eye. To be sure, it is not difficult or unusual to romanticize confederate honor on the battlefield. But Nazi collaboration has not worn well. All the same, Flynn was too big a star not to have survived this accusation or calumny, whatever the case. It is brought up here only as a footnote to the Western, whose usual participant was beyond reproach, as wholesome as apple pie, milk, and mom.
Ah, but Flynn came from Australia. Still, what of it? The law of averages states (or should) that opinions tend to go across the board, breaking all patterns. Therefore, it would not have been amiss for several Hollywood personnel to have sympathized off-camera, out of earshot, and in the backrooms with an enemy the likes of which the world had never seen nor will ever see again. Not knowing for sure makes the offense, however vague, fabricated or real, sound worse and worse and worse. Take into consideration that an alleged act of espionage was supposed to have occurred in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, and the accompanying act of tarnish is, to say the least, complicated. In April that year, the Luftwaffe gained permission from the Nationalists (not the side for which idealistic poets and novelists fought) to bomb Guernica as an “exercise”. In the midst of Basque country, existing to this day in a state of separatism with Spain, the non-military target (farms, poor civilians, and livestock) was an early example of Nazi atrocity.
Interestingly, the Nazis were inspired by the 1915 Turkish extermination of Armenians — recently highlighted by the current pontiff. It is useful, I think, to take note how differently human beings think about items that seem to admit no interpretation whatsoever. If Flynn somehow fits into the inscrutable mosaic of wartime evil, it is hard to say how, and would require more research than is worth the effort. The sole finger pointed at him comes from a writer, Charles Higham, who made something of a living profiling the larger than life. American Swastika contains references to Flynn and the company he kept. Not much else. True scholarship should be more dispassionate. It is doubtful, at any rate, that Flynn, of Irish, English, and Scottish descent, supported the German American Bund, which, by means of a Madison Square Rally in 1939, sought to win hearts and minds for Nazi Germany. It had indirect ties to the Third Reich, but ultimately fizzled. People acquainted with the man behind the actor mostly comment on a side of his personality, hidden to the camera, that was reflective, deep (as opposed to swashbuckling), and circumspect. So much the better. Why give one’s entire life to a lens and an audio device? To this day, pseudo-historical attempts are constantly made to create a basket of heroes, weighed against an opposite one of villains, all on the basis of who they were or seemed to have been from 1939-1945. For me, the main thing is, the war is over.
The nail in the coffin of this smear is a little-known documentary Flynn made on the fall of Batista and the rise of Castro. Made in Cuba in 1959, Errol and Fidel‘s rhetorical position is hardly the stuff of master race theory. Its sympathies lie elsewhere, with the salt of the earth who struggle to get by on meager wages in recompense for long days of labor. Naturally, plenty of controversy remains about a revolution that, at one point, almost embroiled the U.S. in a nuclear confrontation with the U.S.S.R. Coincidentally, the Obama administration is striving to reverse the hardline position that has led to an unproductive stalemate based on sanctions and mutual animosity. Some disputes, obviously, are not so easily resolved. In sum, what does the above sensationalism have to do with Westerns? Only that a few of the old-timers who made them were as interesting off-screen as they were on.