Saturday, December 10, 2016


In the last year of his life, Errol Flynn carved out a new career as unofficial mouthpiece for Fidel Castro. A long time fan of Cuba, Flynn was hired by the Hearst newspaper syndicate to file reports about the burgeoning revolution, going so far as to embed himself with the merry band of rebels.

Flynn would go on to sing El Comandante's praises on talk shows, eventually producing and starring in the ridiculous Cuban Rebel Girls shortly before his death in 1959.

But there was one unreleased documentary he was involved with, completely forgotten until fairly recently, sporting the grammatically-challenged title The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution. And while the credits promise "Reported by Errol Flynn", anyone with ears will immediately realize it was as truthful as the concept of Cuba being a worker's paradise.

Not that it's a total lie, however. As the movie begins, Flynn bounds into camera range as if being chased by an angry husband or a member of the vice squad. Clenching a cigarette holder in his teeth, the swashbuckler-turned-reporter introduces the documentary we're about to watch.

Flynn needs to steady himself on the world.
And while it's always a pleasure to see the ever-charming Flynn, there are several distractions along the way, whether it be the sounds of something falling off-screen, or his own smoking-induced labored breathing. He also has trouble remembering his lines (or reading the cue cards), often appearing to make up his remarks as he goes along -- his memory was already shot from a lifetime of alcoholism. For Flynn, 50 was the new 80.

"Yo, who's the fat gringo stinking of rum?"
However, the unintended laughs more than make up for Flynn's appearance, whether he carelessly tosses a prop globe to the floor, presents Castro as the second coming of Moses, or describes himself as "a simple, peaceful, home-loving man with the heart of a child." OK, so maybe that last remark was meant to be funny. 

But just as we've gotten used to the sorry sight in front of us, The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution abruptly switches to newsreel footage of the revolution -- and this is where the real bullshit starts. The narration, allegedly by Errol Flynn, is actually someone else speaking with a (possibly) phony British accent who sounds nothing like him -- maybe because Flynn was Australian.

Errol Flynn's version of "Goldilocks": The mother's too old, 
the girlfriend's too young -- but the other two are just right.
It becomes even more surreal when the faux-Flynn talks about the fun he's having as we see the real Flynn gambling in a Havana casino with his jailbait girlfriend Bevery Aadland and her mother Florence. (He needed someone closer to his own age to talk to.) 

Was Flynn sleeping off a bottle of Bacardi the day of recording the narration? Had he died before the script was finished? Whatever the reason, from this point on, The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution becomes impossible to take seriously. 

Batista (right) looks forward to being overthrown
so he doesn't have to go through this crap anymore.
Not that it's without interest. The news footage is fascinating, whether it's the doomed President Batista addressing a group of American tourists who appear to be trying to live up to every 1950s middle-America fashion cliche, or of Castro's army marching toward Havana. The rebels, we learn, had "taken an oath" not to shave until victory. I guess Fidel never quite believed he was victorious.

Gore-hounds will enjoy real-life gruesome scenes. Protesters being shot in the street; soldiers standing over dead civilians; the remains of Batista's victims being dug up; and, most shocking of all, the execution of a government official by Castro's firing squad. Fun fact: after coming into power, Castro often preempted TV broadcasts of Mickey Mouse cartoons in favor of live coverage of government executions. Hey, kids gotta grow up some time.

What every child wants to see under the Christmas tree.
The narrator pooh-poohs the violence perpetrated by the rebels, preferring to see the sunny side of revolution, whether it's Castro giving a speech with a dove perched on his shoulder, or admiring a child's stuffed Fidel doll. I gotta hand it to him, he sure knew the power of charisma over the gullible. 

Che receives a psychopath's welcome by his fans.

And of course, no hagiography of the revolution would be complete without an appearance or two by the homophobic, rock & roll-hating, mass executioner,
t-shirt icon Che Guevara. He must have known that his trademark beret set him apart from the others, as if he was determined to be the babe magnet of the bunch. That is, when he wasn't shooting people who didn't agree with him. 

As if eager to show off his incompetence, producer Victor Pahlen recycles egregiously inappropriate sound effects over the silent news footage. Whenever there are people applauding, we always hear drunken women laughing -- even when there are no women in sight. Got a shot of people holding a meeting? Throw in the sounds of silverware on dinner plates, indoors or outdoors. There's absolutely no rhyme or reason to the dubbing. Come to think of it, yes, there is a rhyme and reason -- Pahlen is failin'!

Castro needs to wear glasses to
make sure he's talking to Errol
Flynn, and not W.C. Fields.
But The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution's truly head-spinning moments involve the description of Batista -- like how he was "dedicated to the suppression of the people and the protection of his precious self." His "dictatorship press." That kind of thing.

Say, what other Cuban leader does that sound like? I'll tell you who -- the hombre that Errol Flynn earlier said had "grown big in the hearts of men who love liberty and humanity."

No doubt Batista was ruthless leader, however. And nowhere is that more evident when his troops destroy entire towns -- killing innocent civilians -- in an attempt to rout the rebels. Havana, Aleppo -- decade after decade, history uses the same script, only in a different language.

"I got laid in Cuba, and all I got was this lousy scarf."

At least the real Errol Flynn makes two more appearances. Once, in the middle when he shows off a scarf with the rebels' emblem, sewn by their hembra sidekicks.  And then, at the end, when he states his hope that the sacrifices made by the Cuban populace weren't made in vain. Keep hoping, pal.

Flynn then bids us farewell, as he pays tribute to Cuba "where freedom and democracy and all the things that men live by are a reality." Turning the charm up to 11, Flynn adds, "And I believe that. You believe it, too."

To which your only possible reply to the preceding 49 minutes is, I. Don't. Believe. It. 

The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution's one known screening was at the 1959 Moscow Film Festival -- of course! -- where it was undoubtedly received with open arms at the point of a rifle. Five decades later, it can be seen for the piece of propaganda claptrap that it is. Fidel might have had good intentions, but, like Errol Flynn on a night on the town, he didn't know when to stop. If only it had been Castro who died at 50, and Flynn at 90. 

But then, he wouldn't have been Errol Flynn, would he? Viva Captain Blood! Viva Robin Hood! And pass that mojito, comarada.


During my brief sojourn at The Weekly Standard, I wrote about Errol Flynn's final movie, Cuban Rebel Girls. You can read it here.

Flynn talks Castro on Canadian television here.

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