Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tonight's Movie: San Antonio (1945)

Classic film fans know exactly what they'll get with one of Errol Flynn's '40s Westerns: sumptuous Technicolor (well, in many cases), lavish production values, a beautifully gowned leading lady, at least one big barroom brawl or gun battle, and of course, Flynn himself, fighting and romancing with his usual good humor. SAN ANTONIO delivers on all counts.

After a long weekend of work, SAN ANTONIO was just the right entertainment, cheerful and pleasantly predictable. The athletic, confident Flynn always seems completely at home in the Western genre, despite his accent.

The leading lady this time around was Flynn's frequent costar Alexis Smith, who has the opportunity to sing two songs including the Oscar-nominated "Some Sunday Morning." (Voice double expert Karine Philippot credits Bobbie Canvin with the actual vocals; ironically, decades later Smith won a Tony for the Broadway musical FOLLIES.) Smith's lovely gowns were designed by Milo Anderson. Smith had nice things to say about her experiences working with Flynn in the book THE WOMEN OF WARNER BROTHERS.

The movie meanders more than it should, taking too long to tell its story of Flynn going after cattle rustlers. (Sources vary on the run time, which is somewhere between 106-111 minutes.) Otherwise the film delivers colorful, well-crafted light entertainment. The solid supporting cast includes John Litel, Paul Kelly, Florence Bates, S.Z. Sakall, and Victor Francen.

It's impossible to take the ultimate saloon shootout too seriously; there's a complete absence of blood, and it plays as a stuntmen's skill exhibition, as they perform one spectacular drop after another. They earned their pay filming that sequence! The film does have a somewhat spooky shootout between two of the villains which takes place in the ruins of the Alamo.

The movie was shot on location in Calabasas, California, although much of the location work was clearly done by stunt doubles. Principal actors are seen riding in front of some obvious back projections.

The score is by Max Steiner. By coincidence I was listening to a CD this afternoon which included Steiner's score for DODGE CITY (1939), which was reviewed here three years ago this week. (Has it really been that long?) I couldn't help being amused to hear the familiar strains of DODGE CITY's theme music as SAN ANTONIO opened; Alfred Newman wasn't the only film composer to recycle his work!

The movie was directed by David Butler. IMDb indicates that Raoul Walsh and Robert Florey also did uncredited work on the movie.

SAN ANTONIO has been released on VHS and on DVD as part of the four-film Errol Flynn Westerns Collection. The DVD print is amazingly clear -- it seems that it would almost be possible to reach out and snatch the cherries right off Alexis Smith's hat.

DVD extras include the "Warner Night at the Movies" feature with the trailer, shorts, cartoons, and a newsreel.

SAN ANTONIO can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen at TCM's website.

February 2017 Update: SAN ANTONIO was just reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.


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