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‘In Like Flynn’ - movie of Errol Flynn in PNG just doesn’t do it


TUMBY BAY - I’ve just watched a terrible film that purports to represent the early adult life in Papua New Guinea of famous Tasmanian actor, Errol Flynn.

Flynn went to PNG at age 18, seeking his fortune as a planter and gold miner. He spent five years on and off in the country before embarking on an acting career.

In 1929, using the proceeds of his Papua New Guinean gold mining, he bought a yacht in Sydney called Sirocco and, after getting her seaworthy, sailed it back to PNG accompanied by three friends.

In his own words Sirocco was “forty feet at the water line, cutter rigged, she was never intended to sail outside the smooth waters of the harbour”. She was over 50 years old when Flynn bought her.

The voyage took seven months and ended in tragedy when Sirocco was wrecked on a reef off Port Moresby and one of the men drowned.

When he was a famous actor and rich, Flynn had another yacht built and called it Sirocco. Clearly he had a great regard for the little cutter.

Flynn was a talented writer and the voyage on the original Sirocco is detailed in his 1937 book ‘Beam Ends’.

It is an entertaining book full of humour and understated adventure and hijinks. Of itself it would make an entertaining film.

The film I watched goes way over the top however. Even though the filmmakers claim it is based on ‘Beam Ends’ it tries to present Flynn as an action hero of the kind you see in the worst Hollywood blockbusters.

They claim that Flynn was the first action hero, presumably based on his role in such films as ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Captain Blood’. But I think Douglas Fairbanks Snr might dispute that claim.

Flynn and his Sirocco companions in 1930
Flynn and his real Sirocco companions in 1930

The film opens with a purely fictitious episode reminiscent of the opening scenes of the first Indiana Jones movie.

Flynn is leading a couple of Hollywood film makers into the Papuan jungle for some unspecified reason and they encounter cannibals intent upon attacking them. There is a race back to the boat and, on the way, Flynn’s loyal and gallant Papuan servant is killed.

There are lots of flying arrows, a dismembered gold prospector’s body, man-eating crocodiles and a bunch of decidedly unMelanesian-looking warriors whooping and shouting in the background.

The film makers are supposed to be the people who later offer Flynn a contract in Hollywood.

This is also pure fiction. Flynn appeared in a flop about the Bounty mutiny made by Australian director Charles Chauvel and then made his way to London and appeared in films there before he ever set foot in Hollywood.

Despite its claim to authenticity, there are lots of other aberrations, misrepresentations and pure bullshit in the film. One of Flynn’s young companions is portrayed as a much older bitter and suicidal individual who dies when Sirocco is wrecked. That never happened.

According to the film Flynn stole Sirocco from a deadly female Chinese drug smuggler who pursues him up the east coast of Australia with a bunch of goons intent upon killing him.

Needless to say there is much violence in the film, with fistfights, gun battles and fast paced chases. Also thrown in is a fictitious ex-girlfriend who ultimately double crosses Flynn.

I was looking forward to the film because I have long admired Flynn’s skill as a writer and was expecting an intelligent interpretation of his first book.

Beam Ends’ could have been a fine sardonic and humorous film of some intelligence but instead it has been turned into a ghastly Hollywood-style mishmash.

The whole thing was filmed on Queensland’s Gold Coast, so I guess that should have warned me what to expect.

Now I’m wondering whether the DVD should go into the wheelie bin or whether it’s worth keeping as a classic case of how not to interpret the work of a talented writer.


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Pat Zalewski

I heard that Flynn first went to New Guinea under the patronage of a judge in Rabaul who helped him get work.

There is no way you could simply get off a ship and become a vagrant. I saw a brief film clip of Flynn going up the Sepik and diving off a boat and this from an American film maker.

I believe the film is in the national archives in Canberra.

Richard Jones

Not to worry gents. Not that anyone has to date, anyway.

I can answer my own query about the Flynn-Hides fisticuffs. It did happen as old Jimmy Sinclair has reported in his 1969 tome - 'The Outside Man: Jack Hides of Papua' (published 1969).

On page 87 Sinclair notes that Hides in April 1932 stopped at a small tobacco plantation, owned by Flynn, on the Laloki Road on the outskirts of Moresby.

The patrol camped for the night at the plantation but before nodding off Hides did a tour of the curing plant where "Mr Flynn had more than a ton of tobacco being classed for export.

"Flynn and Hides had liked the look of each other and became friends. They spent much time together in the Moresby hotels: the streak of flamboyance in Hides' makeup appealed to the more experienced Flynn."

So where does the bareknuckle dust-up occur ? Well, Sinclair reports that during one drinking session disagreement burst forth.

"The two hot-headed young men engaged in a brief fist fight. Flynn, a skilled boxer and the bigger man, quickly floored the unscientific Hides. Jack, never a man to hold a grudge, laughed at his easy defeat," Sinclair wrote.

"These two men, their destinies so different, were superficially much alike: tall, moustached, good-looking and with easy, natural charm of manner.

"But Hides had a more open and attractive personality. He lacked the calculating, selfish quality that lay beneath the surface charm of Errol Flynn."

Now although Sinclair didn't date the fight in his chapter it's in the paragraph just preceding his description of Hides' planned leave.

The ace patrol officer departed Moresby on 12 April 1932 on three months vacation, added to six months long-service leave, and he sailed aboard the Montoro for Sydney.

So maybe the bare-knuckle activity took place in those early thirties.

Thanks for so earnestly pursuing the details of that bout, Richard. It's a very fine anecdote - KJ

Richard Jones

Phil, Michael and William:

Is there any written record about the legendary fist fight between Flynn and Jack Hides.

As legend would have it, it occurred just inside, or just outside, the Snake Pit at the Bottom Pub.

But a couple of fellow journo acquaintances of mine used to say back in the Seventies it was all fabricated.

Another source said Hides wouldn't have engaged in any fisticuffs because he was a reasonably senior government officer.

Not sure, but it certainly adds a bit of mystique to the Flynn story.

William Dunlop

Michael - I heard this tale in Lae, late 1969 as I recall. The publican at Salamaua, when Flynn became a Hollywood celebrity, sent him his bill for unpaid accommodation and consumables - mostly liquor.

Flynn sent him an autographed photograph of himself. It promptly got pride of place in the dunny.

Michael J Gilsenan

I have a photo of Errol Flynn and my father down a mine together, both semi-dark and dirty. No idea of date or where.

Story told of Errol being where a movie was being made on an island for a couple of weeks. On the last Saturday night on island Errol put on a party for Hollywood people who were leaving early Sunday. Said he would pay.

Later on Sunday the publican realised Errol was nowhere to be found. He had left with the film crew, leaving many debts behind.

When he showed up in his first movie, people sent him accounts for payment. His reply was an autographed photo of himself, but no money.

Would be interested if anyone can add to this story.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The film credits claim that events depicted in the screenplay are largely based on Flynn's book, 'Beam Ends'. That is patently and obviously untrue. Apart from the fact of Flynn and three companions and a boat called 'Sirocco' the rest is invented.

If we assume that Flynn gilded the lily when he wrote the book and the film then destroyed what element of truth was left the screenplay can rightly be called crap.

I'm glad they didn't change the name of the boat. Sirocco is the hot wind that blows out of Africa across the Mediterranean causing all sorts of damage.

If you want to understand Flynn better I'd recommend his PNG-based novel 'Showdown'.

arthur williams

WILKIN, William Martin 'Wilkie' drowned 1 July 1942 aged 56. Owner of expropriated German Lungatan plantation on New Hanover for which he tendered £5,000 in 1926/7. Former District Officer who served 3 years in Australia for Manslaughter of a native. For a while he looked after Susannah, daughter of Errol Flynn and a Selapiu Island woman, but she later went to Ranmelek Mission and disappeared during the war. He was probably one of those attempting to escape in 5 boats from Kavieng on 21 January 1942 after the air raid. They were captured by the invading Japanese in Albatross Passage and returned to Kavieng jail. Later they were sent to Rabaul.

I was once contacted to report if i knew of any mixed race kids descended from Flynn
Is the above a true story of his time on Lavongai. Some say he was at at Matanalaua Pltn. Others at Autang Pltn.
Jim White owner of Lungatang Pltn from just after WW2 to 1987 never mentioned him during his many hours of story telling.

Chris Overland

Errol Flynn deserves better than the film Phil has reviewed.

I gather that the intention was to make the film in the style of Flynn's most successful movies such as "Robin Hood" and "Captain Blood". So far as I can recall the Director's comments, it was never intended to be a realistic portrayal of Flynn's escapades.

It seems that the purported "tongue in cheek" character of the film did not resonate much with movie goers because its box office takings were very poor. It was, in short, a flop.

Perhaps, one day, someone will make a movie that depicts Flynn in a more realistic way. If the reports of the people who knew Flynn well (like David Niven) are accurate, there is more than enough material to produce an entertaining movie.

He appears to have been a deeply flawed character: a boozing, brawling womaniser, with a distinct preference for very young women. Yet this was combined with genuine talent and real intelligence.

Personally, I regard Flynn as the best ever Robin Hood and prefer to remember him as an actor of some talent, even if he was a decidedly dodgy character in real life.


Most of the “charismatics” in outback (particularly) Australia left string of debts during their escapades. Breaker MORANT comes immediately to mind. Charisma seems to be the defining quality of the crook.

Real estate agency principals select their agents on their charismatic index.

A really charismatic real estate agent could sell an outback dunny (with a bent coat hanger for the toilet roll holder, or better still all last years Sydney Morning Herald (Saturday editions)) for $2,000 down and 100 easy payments of $1,000 per week for 20 years.

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil - His business ethics warrant a posthumous fellowship with the Business Council of Australia.

Ross Wilkinson

I’ve also read several bios and an autobio about him in order to determine if he was a kiap or not.

The most recent was The Young Errol Flynn Before Hollywood, John Hammond Moore, Angus & Robertson 1975. The author stated that Flynn left Sydney owing money and obtained passage to Rabaul on a merchant/passenger vessel.

Whilst on the voyage Flynn is alleged to have made the acquaintance of a couple returning from leave and who identified themselves as a senior public servant and his wife. This gent apparently suggested that Flynn call on him in Rabaul and he would arrange employment for him.

Despite the fact that the Cadet Patrol Officer scheme had commenced a couple of years earlier, Flynn always claimed that he had been employed as a kiap but it certainly was not through the formal appointment process as a CPO.

Moore interviewed both Horrie Niall and Keith McCarthy who both confirmed that they had worked with and shared accommodation with Flynn and that he had undertaken basic kiap tasks.

Flynn wrote about a number of serious situations and murder investigations that he had been involved with but the short timeline during which he was so employed made these stories impossible.

Yes, they occurred, but not during his time so he embellished his reputation by alluding to his involvement. His employment was quickly terminated after six weeks when it became known that he was having an affair with the wife of another public servant.

And so to the etymology of the film’s title, In Like Flynn. Whilst it is commonly held that the term developed as a reference to Errol Flynn’s sexual prowess, there are varying stories about how and where it evolved. Its meaning is that whoever it is directed at was successful in a particular venture, sexual or not.

It has an American attribution to a Democratic powerbroker named Flynn whose endorsed candidates always won elections. It also appears in an American Army slang guide from WWII as having been developed by soldiers and, again, meaning success.

An Australian attribution comes from the Rev John Flynn who, as head of the Australian Inland Mission, was responsible for the creation of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Ion Idriess’ 1935 biography of him entitled 'Flynn of the Inland' is claimed to be the inspiration for the phrase. I favour this version because, to me, “In like Flynn” has a certain Australia slang flavour about it.

Philip Fitzpatrick

He certainly cheated people and left a string of debts behind him.

His first job was as a clerk in a shipping company and he was sacked for pilfering petty cash.

Paul Oates

Hollywood and its artificially created personas have ruined many an actor when they start to believe their screen image is in fact reality.

Whether Flynn's personality was in fact ruined or enhanced by Hollywood is subject to interpretation. In his autobiography, it's my recollection that he tended to leave out certain factual references to how he skipped through various frontier towns like those in Northern Australia and New Guinea just one step ahead of retribution.

Whether that is myth, fact or a collation of the two is up to the reader to decide. I remember some oldies 'yarning' about his so called reputation in Wau and Salamaua but perhaps that was just the Meri Buka talking?

Philip Fitzpatrick

That's precisely what's so bad about this film Paul. It perpetuates the myth generated in Hollywood to sell films that Flynn was a compulsive womaniser and hell raiser, a myth that the insecure Flynn readily helped spread around.

The facts show a completely different sort of man. If you read his novels and autobiography you come away with the sense of an intelligent man trapped in a Hollywood trope that eventually drove him to drink and an early death.

Paul Oates

Many classic anecdotes about Flynn were written up in David Niven’s book, ‘The Moon's a Balloon’. Niven set Flynn up by getting a madam and one of her nubile young pros to play an aunt and her daughter. When Niven and the ‘Aunt’ then left to go shopping, the pro was told to encourage Flynn who, as we know, never did need much encouragement.

Bursting back in ahead of time, they and some other invitees interrupted the inevitable and confronted Flynn with the totally acted out; ‘How could you?’

Caught in the act, Flynn stammered and stuttered, completely red faced and totally embarrassed.

Not so the madam, who ruined it all by then saying; “Move over girl, I want a piece of that as well”.

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